§ Lord Wharncliffe
, rose to move for copies of correspondence between the Commissioners of the Poor-law and sundry persons on the subject of some alleged mismanagement in the administration of the law, and of particular cases of grievance which were said to have occurred in different parts of the country; and he must say, that the whole question of the Poor-law Amendment Act and its administration was in as unsatisfactory a state as could well he imagined. It had been in operation four years, and during that time it had been applauded on all sides, by the Members both of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and by almost the whole of the press of the country—both the country press and the London press; and one singular thing was that, up to the present moment, there had 1216 not been one real case of grievance established. He was one of those who was not entirely satisfied with the law now that he saw it in operation, and before he sat down he would state the particulars in which he considered that it had not answered the expectations of those who brought it forward, and of those who supported it; and he should point out some cases in which he thought sufficient inquiry had not been made, and proper steps had not been taken to relieve the public mind from the suspicions which were naturally connected with a measure of this sort. He had stated generally, that the administration of this law was by no means in a satisfactory state; but to the inhabitants of the West Riding of the county of York, in which he lived, it was in a less satisfactory state than to the inhabitants of almost any other part of the country. Personally, and with regard to his own immediate neighbourhood, he knew nothing, because there no alteration had taken place; and he took it for granted, that the old Poor-law was not so administered as to be attended with any of the evils of the new. The Commissioners appeared to entertain the same opinion with respect to Lancashire, for the system had not been introduced there. However, he might undoubtedly before long be required to act in the capacity of guardian, and before he was called upon to act in that capacity he should like to have the matter cleared up, and to see whether the accusations that were brought against the measure, and against the Commissioners, were founded in truth. He should be extremely sorry to refuse to take part in the administration of the law, but at the same time, unless those accusations were removed, he should be very unwilling to assist in it. Before he entered on the points on which he thought there ought to be some alteration, and the cases in which he thought the Commissioners had not exercised a sound judgment, he must deal strictly with some of the accusations against the New Poor-law, which had never been brought fairly before the Commissioners in a way that could lead to any sufficient inquiry. The first case which had been mentioned by the noble and learned Lord opposite was the case of the Bourne union and General Johnson, and he must say, that that was a most extraordinary case. It was a most extraordinary thing that General Johnson should 1217 have thought proper to take facts on mere hearsay, and not to institute anything like a sufficient investigation before he ventured to lay before the public the attacks which he made on the Bourne union. He believed, that General Johnson was not only a member of the quarter sessions, and therefore connected with the neighbourhood, but was a Member of Parliament for a place in Lancashire; and, when he had made assertions in this town, at the Crown and Anchor, which must have directly referred to the Bourne union, of which he was an ex officio guardian, and when he had been called upon to give an explanation of those assertions, he must say, that the refusal of the General was most extraordinary. He was sorry to say that another case, which had been mentioned by his noble and learned Friend (Lord Brougham), was still stronger; it occurred in the West Riding of Yorkshire, where great agitation had prevailed on this subject. The inhabitants of that district were accustomed to inquiry—they were accustomed to unite and organise in opposition to what they thought wrong and in favour of what they considered right; and they were easily excited on any subject which appealed to their feelings. Under these circumstances, various persons had certainly produced considerable impression on the minds of the inhabitants of that part of the country, and had used language at meetings which appeared to him to be so strong as to require some notice on the part of the Government; it was not for him to say to what extent that language had proceeded, but if seditious language had ever been used it had been used those occasions, and he held it to be the duty of the Government to interfere for the suppression of such violence, and to vindicate the law. In reference to these meetings and to that part of the country, he thought the Commissioners had not acted with discretion. They knew perfectly well, that a strong feeling existed there against the law, and he did conceive, that it would have been a wiser plan to have introduced the new system all round the place where the agitation existed, and then it might naturally have been expected that the inhabitants of that district, witnessing the benefits derived from its operation upon every side, would have been glad to avail themselves of those advantages; but the Commissioners came at once amongst them, and in the midst of the 1218 excitement called on them to take the preparatory step by electing guardians; and it was that proceeding which, as was well known, led unfortunately to the necessity of calling out the military. At the same time, he was bound to do justice to the Poor-law Commissioners. He happened to be acquainted with one of these Commissioners, and his opinions being known, he had learnt that the intention of the Commissioners was precisely that which he had stated—they had determined to establish unions all round the manufacturing districts, and first to see its effect in the surrounding agricultural districts. But they were compelled to adopt a different course, because, by the clumsy legislation of an Act passed last Session for the registration of births marriages, and deaths, it became necessary to establish unions and elect guardians; for by that Act some of the officers of the new Poor law were to carry that Bill into effect. That it was, which made the Commissioners travel from their original intention. In that part of the country, besides, the old Poor-law had not produced the evils which frequently resulted from it. He would not say, that there was no fault on the part of the magistrates or overseers—he would not say, that the administration of the law was perfect; but still it was marked by none of those crying evils against which he was bound to admit, the Poor-law Amendment Act had, in a great many cases, provided remedies. No part of the people in that district had called for the amendment of that law, from the highest to the lowest; and those who were most affected by such a measure were quite satisfied with the operation of the old bill. It was not surprising that, having been excited by persons sent on purpose—being satisfied with the existing law—hearing stories repeated day by day of the cruelty and oppression, not only of the guardians but of the Commissioners—the three despots, as they were so frequently called by his noble Friend (Earl Stanhope) in that House—it was not surprising that, upon the introduction of that new measure, they should have exhibited a considerable degree of excitement and allowed themselves to be misled into acts of violence and outrage. One of the persons to whom he had alluded, he was sorry to say was a clergyman—he meant Mr. Bull—who had taken a part in these transactions which appeared to him most unjustifiable. He had made two attacks upon 1219 the system and the Commissioners at two public meetings, one of which was attended by many thousand persons; Mr. Bull stated first of all certain circumstances which had occurred at Nottingham, and made a charge of cruelty towards the persons in that workhouse? Now, what was the fact? On inquiry, it was quite clear that if those persons in the workhouse at Nottingham had been maltreated at all, it must have been under the Old Poor-law and not under the New. The next charge was also made at a public meeting at Bradford, where Mr. Bull produced a cripple, and told the people a story of a woman having been ill-used; he had said, that he would produce testimony of another sort—there stood before them a cripple who had met in the town with a friend who had, out of mercy, delivered him from sharing the terrors of the guardians; the mother was a widow, who received only a single loaf as outdoor relief for the week, and if it were not for the fear of her losing this single loaf, he would state the names and the places; but as it was, he would state them confidentially to the chairman. The next instance to which he referred was to that of "a young woman who had been stripped and flogged on the naked back, like a soldier, with a whip of eight or ten lashes." Mr. Bull had told these things to a meeting of several thousand persons, and he would leave their Lordships to imagine, when they were told, that the cripple could be produced to the meeting, what excitement the statement was calculated to produce, and what would be the probable consequence. The Poor-law Commissioners wrote to Mr. Bull most properly inquiring the names of the parties, the places where and the times when these circumstances occurred, and it was scarcely possible to believe, that Mr. Bull, a clergyman of the Church of England, should think himself justified in refusing to communicate the information, and, least of all, that if he refused to give the information which the Commissioners required, that he should leave their letter unanswered. Instead, however, of sending an answer he put a letter into the newspaper, in which he said that, singular as it might appear, he had that morning received a letter from the office of the Poor-law Commissioners, of which he sent a copy, as he proposed to hold no communication with them, except publicly; he then gave the letter of the Commissioners, and then said 1220 that as the Poor-law Commissioners had received their information through The Times newspaper which had given a report of his speech, they should receive their reply through the same medium; and he protested against the un-English tribunal of the Poor-law Commissioners who had "usurped the prerogative of the King, the Parliament, and the courts of law." After objecting to this usurpation, and to the oppression of the poor, he proceeded to say, that he was prepared to show, that the cripple was no fictitious person, and that he was willing to lay the matter open for investigation, if the Commissioners would give substantial security that the single loaf granted to the poor widow and her child should not be taken away; but then, he said, that he would not accept any security from these Commissioners, since by the Act which they administered they had the power to rescind their orders and to break their promises as soon as made, and he was not young enough to be caught by their assurance. Mr. Bull talked of the usurpation of the Commissioners, but who were they? Were they usurping any power when they asked for information? They did it under the law which constituted them a public body; and it was the duty of a subject to lay before the Commissioners who were appointed by the law to watch over this particular subject, it was, he repeated, the duty of a loyal subject, who was bound to obey the law of the country, to give the grounds upon which he had stated the circumstances which he had publicly brought forward. Mr. Bull was in a situation in life, in which it must be supposed, that he had received an education enabling him to know the meaning of the words which he had used, and when he called the power which was given to the Commissioners by the King, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons an usurpation, he had used words which were not justified in the mouth of anybody, and least of all in the mouth of a person in his situation in life. He went on, however, and said, that unless he got the security, the description of which he stated, he would not give the information. He proposed, that the Commissioners should invest the cost of the widow's weekly loaf for seven years in the savings' bank, and unless they did this they would have "no information from him." The Commissioners had no power to make this investment, and he (Lord Wharncliffe) did 1221 not know how they were to set about it. [Lord Brougham: The powers of the Commissioners would expire before the expiration of the seven years.] Not only would the powers of the Commissioners expire, but the widow might also expire and, in short, the proposal was so ridiculous that it could not be acted on. Then, with regard to the young woman, Mr. Bull said that he was prepared to discover the names of the parties and of the union, but not for a Poor-law investigation, nor before the guardians, who sat with closed doors, and excluded the public press; but he was willing to promote a legal investigation in the courts of law before the revered judges of the land, and a jury; and if the Poor-law Commissioners would give security that the perpetrators should be prosecuted in the Court of King's Bench, he was ready to give up his authority. Now, he (Lord Wharncliffe) thought, that it was impossible for the Commissioners to give this security; it was the business of the Poor-law Commissioners to inquire first into the grounds of a charge, and if the inquiry should show that there were good grounds for a criminal proceeding, then, indeed, they ought undoubtedly to prosecute the perpetrators, and if they did not they would fail in the execution of their duty; but every one, before he dragged another into the courts of law, ought thoroughly to inquire into the circumstances of the case he brought forward. It was not sufficient to say, that information had been given to bind the parties at all events to prosecute in a court of law; the parties ought to inquire, and if there were grounds for the accusation, the Commissioners ought to prosecute the perpetrators of such barbarities. The remainder of Mr. Bull's answer was a mere repetition of the accusations which he had brought against the Commissioners of usurpation, and it ended with rather a sweeping charge against, amongst others, their Lordships; for he said, that the devisers of the bill were guilty of constructive treason and conspiracy against the liberties of the people. And this was in justification of language used to a mob—he did not use the term at all offensively—but was it language which any person ought to use, and was it not such as would lead the persons to whom it was addressed, to think that they had some sort of authority for believing that the law was unjust. The next case which he would mention related to the 1222 letter of his noble Friend near him (Earl Stanhope). It appeared, that the Poor-law Commissioners did not ask his noble Friend to explain anything which he had said in that House, but to give an explanation on the subject of a letter which he had written to them. The Commissioners took for granted that when his noble Friend mentioned cases relating to the operation of the Poor-law he would be ready to state the particulars that their Lordships would insist, if such statement were made in their House, upon having the names of persons and of places, and that they would be put in possession of such circumstances as would accelerate their inquiries; they would not believe, that the noble Lord would be there, as elsewhere, so extremely unwilling to give the names and particulars of the cases cited that their Lordships might satisfy themselves; but they had remained satisfied with what had passed in that House, seeing that taking notice of what fell from Members in Parliament was sometimes attended with dangerous results. But his noble Friend had written a letter respecting some poor persons who were represented to have suffered severely under the Poor-law; and the Commissioners being anxious to redress the evil if it existed, and if it had no foundation to remove any ill impression with respect to it which might exist in the public mind, wrote to the noble Lord requesting the names of the parties, the places where, and the dates when the circumstances occurred. The answer which they received from the noble Lord was, that the statements were not his own, but that he had received them from a correspondent in Suffolk, who had not stated the names of the parties or of the places. Not satisfied with this answer, the Commissioners pressed the noble Lord to grant them the favour of obtaining from his correspondent such particulars as would enable them to investigate the facts, or if he would give the name of his correspondent, the Commissioners stated that they would communicate directly with him, and save his Lordship all further trouble. His noble Friend had answered this letter by saying that he had communicated with the Gentleman referred to, that the statement could be proved on oath; but he declined to mention the names or the particulars for the reasons publicly stated by the rev. Mr. Bull, of Bradford, for fear of 1223 similar consequences to the parties. He had, therefore, not only to complain of Mr. Bull, as he did in Yorkshire, but also for the example which he had furnished to others. He (Lord Wharncliffe) must certainly say, that this was not a fair way of dealing with the Commissioners in the first instance, nor with their Lordships in the second instance; and, least of all, with those poor people, in whose circumstances and privations the noble Earl took such warm and firm interest. He gave every credit to those who had urged these objections for the sincerity by which they were actuated; but he must say, that they took the worst possible method of bringing those objections forward. Their Lordships would concur with him, that when any person came forward to attack persons in official situations—when charges were brought forward against such persons, calculated to prejudice their public conduct—the individual, whoever he might be, who brought forward such charges was bound to state the grounds on which those charges rested. He was bound to do so in such a way as to afford to the parties accused an opportunity of answering the allegations urged against them, for he did not see how the parties accused could have the fullest opportunity of defending themselves if they were refused to be put in possession of the authority upon which the charges against them rested. He thought that the sooner the matter of such charges was sifted the better. If the stories of cruelty and oppression which had been told were true they would at once be able to come to the conclusion that there must be something wrong in the Act of Parliament under which they could be inflicted. But if, on the contrary, these stories turned out to be unfounded, Why then, in that case, the sooner the public mind was disabused on the subject the better; and that object could in no better way be effected than by investigating in a satisfactory manner the grounds on which those statements rested. In the House of Commons something had been done on this subject. He entertained towards the House of Commons the same feelings of respect as towards their Lordships: he feared, however, that what had been done in the other House of Parliament would not have the effect that was intended. He feared that instead of doing away with the imputations cast upon the Poor-law Act those proceedings would 1224 rather tend to keep them up. The House of Commons had appointed a Committee to inquire into the operation of this Act, but he believed that Committee had done no more than make a report of the evidence. That Committee had been appointed in the last Session of Parliament, and had been renewed in the present Session. There had already six deliveries of papers taken place, which had been communicated to their Lordships; but these papers contained nothing but the evidence of the Poor-law Commissioners. He did not doubt but that they gave much useful and valuable information with respect to the mode in which they had proceeded to establish unions, and to carry the Bill into operation; but though this information might be very valuable in itself, he did not think, that that was the way to get rid of the imputations against the working of the Poor-law. The whole question was comprised within a very small compass. Were those stories of neglect true, or were they false? It appeared to him that the first thing that ought to be inquired into, was whether these statements were true, or whether they were false. He was sure that the immediate publication of the evidence, if the charges were unfounded, would have the effect of removing any injurious impressions that were entertained on this subject by a great part of the public. Having stated these cases, he would now proceed to mention other cases, in which he did not think the working of the Poor-law was altogether satisfactory, and with respect to which cases he thought it desirable that some alteration should be made in that interpretation of the Act under which the Commissioners acted. The first cases to which he should allude, were those of the Bridgewater Union. A certain gentleman, named Bowen, had written a pamphlet, and had published several letters on the subject in the Times newspaper. He must, however, say that Mr. Bowen appeared to him to have made out too good a case for himself. In his published statements he showed too great an extent of maladministration—he proved too much, as was generally the case with enthusiasts, who, when they had a case to wake out, generally went beyond the mark, and by so doing threw suspicion over all their views and conclusions. The Commissioners had ordered an inquiry, and when the result of that inquiry should be made 1225 known, they would be best able to form a judgment; but from what was stated, if those statements proved to be well founded, it would appear that with respect to the Bridgewater Union, there was a good deal of blame to be attached to the conduct pursued by it. When these papers should be produced, he should think it his duty to move their Lordships for a Committee to inquire into all those transactions to which they referred. Some of the circumstances with respect to this union, even on the showing of the Commissioners themselves, were not satisfactory. The principal charge was with respect to the dietary, and the continuance of that dietary, without any alteration whatever after sickness had commenced. There was also another charge with respect to a change made in the medical officers, and the placing persons of an improper description in their room. The next case to which he should call the attention of their Lordships, occurred in a parish in the county of Berks, in the Union of Hungerford. This was a case that was by no means free from blame. It appears that in this union an able-bodied labourer with seven children, applied to the parish for relief, the eldest of his children only thirteen years old. There was none of the family, except the father, able to earn anything towards the support of the family, and his earnings amounted to eight shillings a week, a sum which was quite insufficient for the support of a man and his wife and seven children. He applied to the workhouse to relieve him of the support of some of his younger children, but the guardians refused to do so, stating that they had no power. The guardians then wrote to the Commissioners, stating and urging that the young females of the family might be taken into the workhouse, so as to enable the remainder of the family to live by the earnings of the father. But this the Commissioners refused to comply with, stating that it would be a grant in aid of wages. They stated that, from the circumstances submitted to them, it would appear that they were called upon to sanction a recurrence to the exploded system of granting relief in aid of wages, and which was, however, a practice calculated to have the worst possible effect on those who received relief, and the Commissioners stated that, receiving a part of a family into the workhouse without receiving the whole, was a grant in aid of wages, and they stated that they 1226 could not comply with the request of the board of guardians. It appeared, then, that the request of this individual to have part of his family admitted into the workhouse was refused. He knew that the notion prevailed, that the only way to prevent relief being improperly administered, was to make destitution the test of relief. But what further test did they require than to show that a man was in a state of distress to this amount, that all that he could earn was insufficient for the support of his family? He thought that there ought to be a discretion allowed, and that when a person was shown to be unable to support his family, he ought to be assisted in doing so. Were they to be told, that in such a case as this they were to be precluded from giving relief to a person in this situation—placed in this state of distress by no misconduct of his own, and by circumstances which he could not avoid? If there was not some discretion allowed in cases of this kind, their law would be likely to break down, however good it might be in other respects. Now, with respect to the improvident marriages, it was understood at the time the law passed that after the passing of the Act no relief could be given out of the workhouse to persons who had contracted improvident marriages, because they were only suffering distress which was the consequence of their own imprudence. But persons who married before this law, and who were suffering distress to an extent that gave them a claim to relief, ought not to be punished by the operation of what in their case was to all intents and purposes, an ex post facto law. He certainly admitted that one argument urged in favour of the law was, that it was to put an end to out-door relief, and that the work- house was to be made the test of destitution; but the Act was so rigorously carried into operation, that out-door relief was refused in all cases whatever. If he thought there was to be no discretion allowed in extreme cases—if he thought that the powers given to the Commissioners, were in all cases to be imperative with respect to out-door relief—nothing would have ever made him give his consent to the Act. He thought in this respect that certain parts of the law ought to be altered. He thought, that in certain cases a discretion ought to be left with the board of guardians, which they should exercise on their own respon- 1227 sibility, if they thought proper in extreme cases; that the powers of the board of guardians ought not to be imperative, and that they should not be forced to draw the string so tight as to render the working of the Act a cause of discontent. He had trespassed longer upon their Lordships' attention than he had originally intended, but it was a subject on which he felt most anxious that all doubt and misrepresentation should be fully cleared up. He had never disguised either in that House or elsewhere, that he had supported the Poor-law Amendment Bill when it was in that House. He had never disguised his opinion, that the evils of the old Poor-law, particularly in the south of England, were enormous, and that it was necessary that the old system should be superseded by some wise and comprehensive and at the same time stringent law. They had now had four years' experience of the working of that law, and he thought that it was the duty of those whose experience enabled them to point out the defects in the operation of this law, to come forward and give the Commissioners appointed to administer this Act, an opportunity of showing what were its defects, and not only the Commissioners, but Parliament, in order that whatever defects were ascertained to exist, might be remedied. For these reasons he moved for these papers, and when they should be produced, it was his intention to move for a Committee to inquire into the circumstances connected with these cases. It was not his intention to move for any general inquiry, or to go beyond the cases referred to in the notice which he had given. In his opinion, the case, between the supporters and promoters of the present Poor-law, and those who resisted it, lay in the proof of falsehood of the statements which had been brought forward. Their Lordships would now be afforded the opportunity of ascertaining the truth or the groundlessness of those statements. He was sure that his noble Friend (Earl Stanhope) would not refuse to their Lordships the information which he had refused to the Poor-law Commissioners. Under these circumstances, he begged to move for the production of the following papers:—Copy of the correspondence between the guardians of the Bourne Poor Union and General Johnson, in February, 1838, relative to the statement made by that officer at a public meeting at the Crown and 1228 Anchor Tavern; also copy of a letter from the Secretary of the Poor-law Commissioners to the Rev. G. S. Bull, respecting certain passages contained in a speech delivered by him at a public meeting at Bradford, in the month of February last, together with the answer to such letter, if any has been received; also copies of the correspondence between Earl Stanhope and the Poor-law Commissioners, in the month of January last, respecting a statement of the cases of several poor persons who had suffered under the Poor-law Amendment Act; also copy of a letter to the Poor-law Commissioners from the minister, overseers, and rate-payers of Shalbourne, in the county of Berks, respecting relief to large families, by the admission of a part of such families to the Hungerford Union poor-house, together with their answer thereto, dated the 3rd of March, 1838; and also copy of any correspondence which may have taken place between the Poor-law Commissioners and any person whatever respecting the insufficiency of the dietary in the Bridgewater Union poor-house, or in consequence of any alleged improper conduct upon the part of the guardians or surgeon of that union in the treatment of the poor thereof.
§ Viscount Melbourne
observed, that his noble Friend certainly appeared to him to have succeeded, after all, in making out merely a half-and-half sort of a case. His speech was somewhat of a piebald nature: expressing sometimes approbation, sometimes censure; sometimes looking northwards, and sometimes southwards; in short, it was a speech having different aspects and different views with respect to the very important measure that had been brought before their Lordships on the present occasion. It was not his intention at this moment to go into the merits of this great question. The new poor-law had already been discussed in their Lordships' House at very great length; he should not, therefore, detain their Lordships by entering very generally into a defence of that measure, or into a refutation of the general arguments that were urged against it. He would only say generally that, in his opinion, this matter, as all questions more or less were, was too much argued without reference to the state of things which had existed before its enactment. This matter was always argued as if the state of things before was perfectly proper 1229 and right—as if the poor were in a condition of complete happiness—as if an overseer, before the passing of this law, was a person never supposed to be harsh, violent, rough, or disagreeable in his deportment—for great objections were taken the other night against the deportment of the guardians towards those who applied for relief—and as if the overseer heretofore was also a person of the best and most tender feelings, one who was ever ready to pay the utmost attention to the pauper, and under whose sway none of those grievances took place that now operated so oppressively on the poor. But so far from believing this to be the real state of the case, he was certain that if the old system had been scrutinized as the present system had been, that if the former system had been examined into with anything like the rigid examination which the new system had undergone, it would have been found that the infliction of misery was a thousand times greater under the old poor-law than was experienced under the new. Cases, indeed, were often brought forward during the existence of the old system, and often underwent the censure of courts of justice. He was, he would repeat, perfectly certain that if the old system were subjected to anything like the same strict examination applied to the new, all the defects supposed to exist at present would have been found to exist under the old in a tenfold degree. His noble Friend (Lord Wharncliffe) had said, that though no case had been substantiated against the Commissioners, or against the law, or against those who had the local administration of it, yet, at the same time, the Commissioners had been guilty of great imprudence in introducing the new law into that part of the country with which he (Lord Wharncliffe) was most particularly acquainted. His noble Friend had also said, and very truly said, that very violent language had been used in that part of the country against the new law and the administrators of it, and he had expressed his assent to the observations made by a noble Earl the other night, that the Government ought to prosecute those who were guilty of uttering such language; that they owed it to the poor-law itself, and to the Commissioners who administered it, not to suffer such language to pass without making it the subject of severe animadversion. Now, he must own that great discretion was required to be exercised in 1230 such matters as this. Within the last six or seven years there had been a great deal of discussion upon the prudence and discretion of instituting this kind of prosecution; and he confessed that there was not very great encouragement given to parties to enter upon these prosecutions. There was great difficulty to be encountered. An individual who went to the law of libel for redress in this country appeared to him to put himself pretty nearly as much upon his trial as those whom he accused. The feeling which first arose upon these matters would at the time of trial be passed: the words themselves that were complained of were very likely, in the first instance, to produce a stronger impression than they ought to do, and when they came to be considered afterwards they would very probably not be found very formidable, and when they came to be discussed and palliated by counsel, they would possibly be found susceptible of great mitigation. This he felt strongly, partly from his own experience, and partly from the observations of others, how extremely prone every man in this country (and he supposed in every other country) was, to palliate and excuse the most indiscreet, the most intemperate, the most violent, the most inflammable language, provided it had been uttered by those whom he considered to belong to his own party, and in support of those political opinions to which he himself was attached. He had always found that, however strong the feeling might be in favour of prosecuting persons for using intemperate language, yet when the parties really came to be tried, those who instituted the prosecution were not so very warmly and energetically supported even by those who had recommended it. Therefore a prosecution of this description was a matter of prudence, of consideration, and of expediency. At the same time, admitting, as he unquestionably did, the violence of this language, he confessed he was surprised that it had not deterred his noble Friend opposite from concurring and acting with those who had employed it. However, in his opinion, it would not have been prudent (from causes which he would not go into any further now—perhaps, indeed, he had already gone too far) to have instituted a prosecution against the parties for the uttering of that language. But his noble Friend (Lord Wharncliffe) had said, that the Commissioners should not have introduced the new law into the 1231 district in which this excitation and violence prevailed. Whether the course pursued by the Commissioners was the most prudent or not, he would not stop to inquire, but he begged to observe, that that was not the only part of the country in which excitement and violence against the new poor-law had existed. There had been much prejudice and hostility entertained against the law in the south of England; but when the assistant-commissioners had gone down and explained the law to the people, that prejudice and hostility gave way; peace and tranquillity, and a fair acceptation of the law, had succeeded the violent opposition that was first entertained against it; and why should not the Commissioners have expected that this also would have been the case in other parts of the kingdom, particularly among a population which his noble Friend had described to be so intelligent and so superior as the population of the west riding of Yorkshire? Why the Commissioners should not have expected that their arguments would have worked with equal effect upon the excellent understanding of that population, and upon those pure and warm feelings which his noble Friend had said actuated the people there, as well as in the other parts of the country, he could not understand. But, then, his noble Friend had said, that the act of Parliament of last year was a bungling piece of legislation, which made the Poor-law Unions necessarily the registry of births, marriages, and deaths. If, indeed, it were so, then it was a piece of legislation that proceeded from his noble Friend's side of the House. The Registration Bill did not come up from the House of Commons with that provision in it. That provision was introduced by a noble Lord not now in the House, Lord Ellen-borough; he introduced that "bungling" piece of legislation, and it was adopted by those who introduced the Bill. But he did not think, under the circumstances, that that was so bungling a provision, because that was an act, not of last year (as his noble Friend had stated), but of the Session before last, and the Bill was introduced previously to there being this excitement and violence in opposition to the new poor-law, and when there was every prospect of the whole country being formed into unions in a short period of time. There was then no opposition to the bill in any part of the country, and there was every 1232 reason to believe that the proposition would be carried into effect, and that the persons belonging to the unions would be found capable of accepting the office of registrars throughout the country. With respect to the observations of his noble Friend upon the correspondence moved for, he certainly concurred in them. Of course he could not have any objection to the production of that correspondence, nor of the papers for which his noble Friend had likewise moved. When his noble Friend should have obtained the papers in the Bridgewater case, it would be for him to proceed as he might think proper. It was a case which had in a great degree originated in a dispute between the board of guardians and the medical men of Bridgewater, and it entirely depended upon the truth of the circumstances alleged upon one side and the other. With respect to the Hungerford Union case, he (Viscount Melbourne) had no objection to the production of the papers relating to it; but that was a case in which the facts were clear and easy to be understood, and he certainly could not come to the same conclusion with respect to the conduct of the Commissioners as his noble Friend. It was a case which involved one of the main principles of the Poor-law Bill. It involved the question of out-door relief; it involved the question of making up the wages of the labourer out of the poor-rates. That appeared very distinctly to be the fact upon the face of the papers to which his noble Friend had referred. The case was this: the guardians complained that an able-bodied man with a large family having asked for relief for one child, they told him that they could not give him relief for one child, but that if he would come with all his family into the workhouse he might be relieved there. The guardians objected to the restriction thus imposed upon them, because it subjected the union to a much greater expense in having to maintain a man with a large family, than it would have been subjected to if the guardians had been at liberty to have taken one of the children into the house, and left the man out to struggle and work for the rest. The guardians put the case upon the ground of economy. But then they went on to state that there were several other poor and large families in the union, two or three of whom they should like to have relieved in the same manner. Now it was perfectly true that 1233 by the union having taken this poor man and the whole of his family into the workhouse, the expense of supporting many of the other poor families had been saved, because the other families would rather forego relief altogether than go into the workhouse. But the moment that any one of the children of this poor man's family had been taken and supported by the union—the rest being left to be maintained by the father—there would have been applications from all the rest of the families in the union. The real question, therefore, resolved itself into this: whether or not the old system was to be revived—for if one child of a family were to be admitted into the workhouse, that would in effect be making up wages from the poor-rates—and by admitting wages to be made up from the rates they would undoubtedly prevent the farmer from raising the rate of wages, for he never would raise them whilst he could pay part of them out of funds to which other persons contributed. Therefore, in his opinion, it was quite clear that it was a wise thing on the part of the Poor-law Commissioners to direct the guardians of the Hungerford Union to hold strictly to the rule which they had prescribed to them; and he should like to know how those Commissioners could have acted otherwise. There should certainly be every regard paid to the feelings of those who required relief, but he would contend that it was better for the poor families themselves who, were under some degree of privation and suffering, and even living worse than they would in the workhouse, that they should struggle through difficult times and hard circumstances rather than throw themselves upon the parish for relief. The Poor-law Commissioners were therefore perfectly right in directing an adherence to the rule in question; and he should like to be informed whether, from experience, that rule had not contributed to the benefit of that union in general, and particularly to the advantage of the poor themselves? The noble Viscount concluded by repeating that he had no objection to the production of the papers.
The Earl of Radnor
said, that if the Commissioners had acceded to the application of the board of guardians in the Hungerford Union, they would have acted in direct opposition to the great principle of the Poor-law Amendment Act, one of the main objects of which was to put an end to the system of out-door relief. The 1234 noble Earl contended, that wherever the regulation of the Commissioners had been introduced, most beneficial effects had been produced in the characters and circumstances of the poor themselves. It had operated in the way of making the farmers raise the rate of wages. The system had worked equally well for the farmers. The labourers no longer required to be watched in order that they might perform their work. The master had a confidence in the industry of an independent labourer, which he could never feel towards a man whose wages were partly made up out of the poor-rates. Formerly no part of England was more pauperised or disorganised than the counties of Suffolk and Norfolk; yet it had been alleged that the farmers of those counties were about the best farmers in the kingdom; men of the greatest capital and the greatest intelligence, and who altogether understood their business well. Now, in these two counties there was not a single board of guardians on whom the Poor-law Commissioners had enforced their rule, and yet there was not a single board who had not adopted it of their own accord; and what had been the result? In one of the unions (he forgot the name) during the winter before last, there were out of work 1,260 and odd able-bodied paupers; in the course of the last winter there were only eighty-one labourers out of work in that union. In another union, during the winter before last, there were upwards of 900 persons out of work while in the last winter there were only sixty out of work. With this experience he could not help hoping that his noble Friend opposite would think twice about it before he decided against the propriety of enforcing this rule of the Commissioners. There was one reason for not giving able-bodied men, who were not paupers but good labourers, relief in the way suggested by the board of guardians of the Hungerford Union. He would put that reason in the language of a person who was one of the first to introduce the new system; he meant the rev. Mr. Whateley, the rector of Cook-ham, who said—"I always refuse a good and industrious man relief, because I know he is a man of good character, and I will not do him the injury of making him a pauper." It had been argued that a man of good character ought not to be refused relief; but a man of good character was always sure to be supported by his 1235 wages. If relief, therefore, were granted at all in the way proposed, let it be given to men of bad character who would have no one to feel for or sympathise with them. What was the ground on which relief was given out of the poor-rates? Not on account of character, but on account of destitution. But an able-bodied, industrious man was not in a state of destitution, for he maintained himself by his industry; his very character, therefore, disqualified him from receiving relief in the manner proposed by the board of guardians of the Hungerford Union. Upon every ground he approved of the rules laid down by the Commissioners, and in every instance he hoped they would be strictly adhered to. A noble and learned Lord stated the other evening that there had been a prodigious increase of crime, which he attributed entirely to the operation of the new Poor-law Bill. He (Lord Radnor) held in his hand a copy of the criminal returns for the last year, and if anything could be less conclusive than another of the increase of crime as owing to the operation of the Poor-law Bill, it was to be found in those returns. It was true, that in some counties crime had increased, but it was remarkable that in every one of the counties in which the new law had been extensively carried into effect, crime, instead of increasing, had materially decreased. In the county of Bedford it had decreased twenty-four per cent., and in Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cam-bridge, where the operation of the new law had become general, it had decreased at least seven per cent. The returns, moreover, showed that the great mass of crime was of a nature not likely to be committed by persons suffering under the operation of the new Poor-law Bill.
The Earl of Winchilsea
entirely differed from the noble Earl, who said, that character ought not to be considered in granting relief. One of the reasons which induced him to support the new Poor-law was, that it would tend to improve the moral character of the peasantry. But if the noble Earl's doctrine should be generally acted on, the agricultural labourer would find, that good character was in no way advantageous to him; for the profligate and improvident would then be equally objects of charity and benevolence with the industrious and unfortunate. If he had thought that the new Poor-law would entirely exclude out-door relief, he never would have given it his support. But he asserted, 1236 that the Act as passed did not prohibit out-door relief, for it contained a clause providing that, in case of urgent necessity, the guardians should have the power of giving out-door relief. Could there be a case of more urgent necessity, he should like to know, than that of an honest and industrious labourer, who could not provide bread for his family? In the Shalbourne case, it appeared that the sum of 8s. 6d. given to the labourer was the general price of the district. Now he put it to their Lordships whether this rule ought to be acted upon; that, in order to obtain relief, the labouring man must go with all his family into the workhouse. There was scarcely a parish in the kingdom where there was not some man of good character, struggling against difficulties, in order to provide support for a numerous family, which it was impossible for him to do without some occasional aid from the parish. He thought that with regard to relief each case ought to stand on its own merits, and he hoped he never should see the day when character as well as destitution would not be taken into consideration. He maintained, that by giving to the guardians of the poor the power of deciding in what cases out-door relief should be supplied, no danger would be incurred of reverting to the old system of paying wages out of the poor-rates, for each case would be considered on its own merits, and from the parental feeling which characterised the labouring classes of the country, their Lordships might be assured that no honest labourer would part with his child, and allow it to be reared in the workhouse, except under circumstances of absolute necessity. He felt bound to bear this testimony to the character of the labouring classes, for he was sure they regarded their offspring with as much affection as their Lordships did theirs. He, therefore, trusted that some discretionary power, with regard to out-door relief, would be allowed the guardians.
thought, that no good case had been made out against the new Poor-law. There was no doubt, that the lower orders in the north of England were much better off, and less exposed to the pressure of want than they were in the south; but this, he thought, proceeded from a variety of causes, not in any way connected with the administration of the old Poor-law. In the first place, employ-meat was more easily obtained; then again 1237 wages were higher; and in the part where he occasionally resided, it was owing to the thinness of the population, and the consequent ease of settling the parish affairs. But where distress had been formerly felt, much had been overcome by the introduction of the new Poor-law, and he hoped, that, eventually, it would be established, and properly carried out in every part of the kingdom. He could, if it were necessary, state cases that would convince the noble Lord himself, of the absolute necessity of the new Poor-law. Every objection which had been hitherto made against it, had been taken up, and generally speaking, pretty fairly refuted; and he hoped, that if the papers which had been moved for, were found on being produced to be unsatisfactory, the noble Lord would move for a Committee, and that it would be granted, for the purpose of making inquiry into the working of this measure; and he thought, that Parliament would then be satisfied of its beneficial effects. There was one objection which had been made to it in Yorkshire, relating to the economical part of the arrangements. It had been said elsewhere, that the saving by this law, was not so great in reality, as it appeared; and when other expenses, which were formerly paid out of the Poor-rates were deducted, that the saving would be reduced to almost nothing. If that were right, the Commissioners in the south of England, had not acted with the same uniformity as in the north; for there, upon their arrival, they had summoned the overseers of the different parishes to attend with their books, and their accounts for three years previous were gone through, and after those items which had not been directed to the support of the poor, had been struck out, an average was taken. On this average, the demand was calculated for what each parish ought to contribute to the support of the poor, and a very considerable diminution had been thus effected. Under the old Poor-law, if a labourer, who received parish relief in a district, and who had been removed to it, were again found, after a lapse of time, away from that district, he was liable to be taken up, and prosecuted as a vagrant; that part of the law still existed, and in his opinion, it was most unjust. He had, however, just received letters from the north, by which it appeared, that a board of guardians, there connected with a distant union, 1238 having found it impossible to remove paupers to the workhouse, had endeavoured to establish a system of giving relief in every parish, where want had overtaken any paupers. He could bear testimony to the guardians in the part where he sometimes resided, having done all in their power to carry out this Bill, and though it had not yet attained perfection in the south, it ad worked wonders; and he thought it extraordinary, not that the law was not more imperfect, but that it was so good as it was. If any alterations were to be made in it, they should be adopted only after a calm investigation by the Committee, and should be made all at once, and not by piecemeal, so as to extend over a number of Acts of Parliament, and thereby occasion much confusion.
§ Earl Stanhope
concurred entirely in many of the observations which had been made by the noble Lord (Wharncliffe), who had spoken with so much ability, and he owed the noble Lord his sincere thanks for the opportunity which he had given him, of which he was always desirous, and of which he now most gladly and gratefully availed himself, to renew the discussion upon this subject. He also felt obliged to the noble Lord by the course he had taken, as it drew the attention of Parliament, and of the people, to the allegations contained in the papers on the table; and that, contrary, perhaps, to the wish and design of the noble Lord, greater publicity would consequently be given to them, than they had already received. He could have wished, however, that the motion of his noble Friend had been more extensive, so that the Augean stable of Somerset-house might have been cleared out, and that his noble Friend had called for the production, not of the insignificant correspondence for which he had moved, but for all documents whatsoever, which might be found in the repositories of the three dictators. That motion, from the influence which the noble Lord had on his side of the House, he would have been sure to have carried. Their Lordships would then have seen by those documents, if produced—and as public documents, that House had a right to demand them—what representations and remonstrances had been made by the boards of guardians, what answers had been given, what specific cases had been 1239 brought, what investigations had taken place, and what had been the result. They would have heard, also, that which they ought to have heard, but of which they were at that moment ignorant, what rules, orders, and regulations had been applied to the several unions, which had all the force and authority of positive statutes, by virtue of what was called, and which purported to be, an Act of Parliament; but which, if Parliament had no right to have passed that measure, would be an useless roll of parchment. As to himself, he should have had no objection to have produced all his correspondence on this subject, if necessary; for there was no part of his public conduct which he was ashamed or afraid to avow. He was not only able and willing to justify it; but he would also add, that he did not hold himself accountable to that House, or any of its Members for doing his duty, and that he was responsible only to God, and his conscience. With respect to that correspondence, the "very head and front of his offending" appeared to have been, that he had received statements from a correspondent of his own, with whom he had had frequent communications, which had been made to Mr. Oastler at Huddersfield, and that he had read them over at a public meeting. They had not, however, arraigned the conduct of individuals; but the system under which they had acted. Some time ago, he had had occasion to take the opinion of high legal authority on a case in Suffolk, where great injury and injustice had been done to certain persons. There were several questions, and their purport was, whether, under the new Poor-law, the guardians had a right to act as they chose, for they insisted on removing whole families into poor-houses, at a great expense, when they might be relieved at a small expense out of them. [Lord Brougham: The families had not been forced into the poor-house.] He could not state the cases, but he would read the answers which the person to whom he had applied, had given to those questions, and it was, that "he thought it impossible to give a true legal answer to them, for in all cases relating to the new Poor-law, the Commissioners had complete legislative anthority, and their orders were considered as parts of the Bill. He had hoped, to have found those orders in the Parliament-office, but had not been successful; but their power was exercised by orders 1240 for particular unions, and thus Parliament was deprived of the control over them, which they ought to possess. He did not, however, know those orders for the union from which this case had been sent, and he, therefore, could not say how far their conduct had been justifiable or not." The authority he had quoted, was, a high legal authority. The charge which he and other opponents of the Bill brought, was against those orders—against the system which necessarily produced such injury and injustice. He did not admit, with his noble and learned Friend opposite, that their objections rested on specific cases. His noble and learned Friend had shown a great and laudable desire to obtain an abolition of slavery, but he would ask him, whether he thought that slavery was not a great and intolerable evil, even under an indulgent and kind master? Slaves were not necessarily unhappy or illtreated, but they might be so. His objections to this Bill, then, could not be answered, even if no case of hardship under it could be specified. He had abstained from stating to the House the cases to which he had just referred, because it was tedious to those of their Lordships, who were unaccustomed to legal investigations, and intolerable when polemical discussions were introduced. He would proceed to the notice which had been taken of his correspondence with Mr. Oastler at Huddersfield. His noble Friend was not aware that he would obtain nothing, more by seeing it, than what he already knew, for those cases had been reported in The Times, and their accuracy therefore, might be depended on, although they had not been communicated to the Commissioners at Somerset-house. The system itself had been abused, not the agents of it, and he must say, that persons of independent character ought not to accept the office of guardian unless they hoped to mitigate the rigours of this law. When he had been asked to state these cases he had declined to do so, following the example of his friend, Mr. Bull; and he had refused upon two grounds—first, because there was not a proper tribunal before which the cases might be investigated. It was a mockery and insult to the injuries already heaped on the laborious classes of this country, if persons were to be judges in the cases brought against them. What had taken place in the Bridgewater case when a complaint had 1241 been made by Mr. Bowen against the guardians of that union? What other result could be expected if the Poor-law Commissioners were to sit in judgment on their own orders? As to bringing it before a court of law, the inconvenience was well known; and if done at all, it must be done at the private expense of the person himself, for he held combinations of persons for the purpose of paying the expenses of any prosecutions as illegal and improper. But without this, a sufficient plea might be brought by the defendant in saying, "We acted under the orders of three Commissioners, and if we had not obeyed them, we should have been subject to fine and prosecution." In the second place, it was only just to the complainants that their names should be concealed until they had received security from being punished or prosecuted for making a complaint. He certainly would not give the names of his correspondents who communicated information to him on the subject of the Poor-law, because those petty tyrants who acted under the orders of those greater despots at Somerset-house might find occasions to oppress them. He thought it but justice to those individuals that their names should be concealed. Let not his noble Friend who brought forward this motion flatter himself with the idea that, if a Committee of Inquiry were appointed, which should examine him on oath before it, he would disclose their names. He could neither feel nor exhibit any disrespect for their Lordships; but, fully sensible of the duty he owed to their Lordships, and feeling also that which was due to himself and to his conscience, he should decline, whatever might be the consequence as affecting himself, whatever might be the punishment with which his contumacy might be visited, he should certainly decline answering any questions tending to disclose the names of the individuals of whom he had spoken. He conceived, that there was no rule more valuable or one which it was more incumbent on every man to follow than this—that whatever was communicated in confidence, either expressed or implied, ought never, under any circumstances, to be disclosed. His noble Friend admitted, that this New Poor-law, which he contended ought to be repealed entirely, required considerable amendments. His noble Friend had alluded to the fact of the guardians having acted upon their own 1242 judgment and discretion, although it were against the orders of the Commissioners. Now, if his noble Friend condescended to accept the office of guardian, he was sure his noble Friend would also act upon that principle firmly, and oppose the mandates he should receive from head-quarters. He had no doubt, whatever, that all the charges which were made against the New Poor-law and its operation, could be substantiated in a court of justice; but, whether or not, he objected to the principle of the Bill—he objected to the possibility of such acts as had been over and over detailed taking place without responsibility to any body of men. It was said, that those acts had not been proved; but such was not the fact. The Bridgewater, and other cases that he could name, had been proved beyond all possibility of doubt. With respect to the cases mentioned by Mr. Oastler, upon whom the noble Lord opposite had made an attack, they had been objected to on the ground of their having been brought forward upon hearsay evidence only; but had they been disproved? They had not, and, until they were, he considered that they should not be rejected as altogether unworthy of credence. In reference to what had fallen from the noble Lord at the head of the Government, he begged to say he entirely concurred with him in the very judicious resolution he had come to on this subject—namely, entirely to disregard the intemperate advice he received from others. He could, moreover, assure the noble Lord, that opinions perfectly consistent with that resolution would be found to pervade the mountain of correspondence which he had from time to time received on this subject. So far as that point was concerned, he should not at all object to lay the whole of that correspondence before the public; for if any one could be found with sufficient patience to wade through it, whether confidential or not, he would find it full of exhortations to abstain from all tumultuous proceedings, all acts of violence, and to confine themselves solely to legal and constitutional proceedings in their opposition to the New Poor-law. He had stated before, and he repeated, that it was a law by which the immoral and dishonest character was benefitted at the expense of the better part of the community. Such was its practical operation, that a man of good character, actuated by principles of morality and rectitude, and who, not wishing, 1243 even in the extremity of his distress and suffering, to support himself by the plunder and injury of his neighbour, had his choice either to wither and starve in silence and in solitude without complaint, or to ask for what was called by the insulting term of relief. It was the man who was not restrained by moral feeling, who lived by injuring society, and who was reckless of the consequences of a prison—for such was the nature of the workhouses, and such the punishment imposed by them, that imprisonment in common gaols was considered preferable—it was men of that description who availed themselves of the present system. That system had been greatly commended by a right rev. Prelate (the Bishop of Norwich), and who seemed to exult in what he termed the improved moral condition of the poor of his neighbourhood. Now he thought that the view taken of the subject by the right rev. Prelate might best be described by a fable. As the story went, it appeared that a bear for even that animal as well, perhaps, as a Poor-law Commissioner, might be at some time or other capable of entertaining some feeling of humanity and tenderness—had taken a lively interest in the fate of a man whom he had observed in a reclining posture basking in the sun. Finding him annoyed by a fly, this benevolent bear struck it with his huge paw, and killed it, but at the same time dashed out the man's brains. Such was the principle upon which the right rev. Prelate and the supporters of the present Poor-law seemed to act. Nothing, he contended, could be more injurious or unjust than to visit upon the whole body of labourers throughout the country—that most meritorious and valuable class of persons to whom they ultimately owed all they enjoyed or could possess—nothing could be more detestable in principle or diabolical in practice, than to visit upon them the punishment which was due to others, who, from the nature of their characters, had no claim upon our sympathy or relief. For his own part, he should never cease to pursue all legal and constitutional means to obtain a repeal of the present system of Poor-laws.
had addressed their Lordships for such a length of time that morning upon a very different question, that he was too much exhausted to state what he should otherwise feel bound to do. His noble Friend besides tempted him to silence by promising him many other op- 1244 portunities of expressing himself; but he regretted it, for he regarded those frequent exhibitions, of which his noble Friend had now afforded one, and of which he held out the prospect of more, as exceedingly prejudicial to the interests of the parties affected by the measure. That measure, having been once brought forward and fairly discussed, persevering in the discussion of it, repeating the same inflammatory and spirit-stirring language which his noble Friend knew so well how to employ, whether by his pen or in addressing their Lordships, he conceived to be inconsistent with that dispassionate inquiry and calm consideration which a subject so peculiarly calculated to excite, particularly demanded. He hoped his noble Friend's better sense and calm reason would teach him the propriety of abstaining from the contant and perpetual mooting of this question, as in doing so he could not effect any good result. In the discussion to-night, mention had been made of the Rev. Mr. Bull, in reference to whom, he had not been fairly treated by his noble Friend. He had stated, that although the rev, gentleman had been written to by the Commissioners twelve months ago, requesting names, dates, and places, no answer had been received from him. He was silenced at the moment by being told, that the rev. gentleman had not written to the Commissioners because he had sent an answer to a newspaper, and that having done so, it was to be supposed that the Commissioners saw it. But that answer was not worth the twentieth part of half a farthing. It was an answer, accounting in a very stupid way, and by very inconclusive reasoning, why he should not give an answer. He did not mention the name, time, or place, but gave a reason for not doing so, which was, that he would continue to refuse unless they (the Commissioners) did what they could not do, viz., anticipate the poor-rates for seven years, they having at the time but two years' purchase of them. His noble Friend also refused to specify name, time, or place, in reference to his correspondence. Now, when the communications of those anonymous correspondents, for so they were to all but the noble Lord, tended to slander the character of persons who were known, and by being made public to the world to injure the reputation of those persons, he thought the true course for his noble 1245 Friend to take was, not having permission to mention the name of the concealed author, for the sake of justice towards the accused to withhold the accusation altogether. His noble Friend made great allowance for the slanderer, but none for the slandered. In speaking of Mr. Oastler his noble Friend had called him a respectable man; but if by respectable was meant a person who regarded the King's peace, and who considered that the poor, above all, were sure to be the first and greatest sufferers in a convulsion—if it consisted, amongst other things, in being a man who was adverse to the putting in jeopardy the lives of his fellow beings—if this constituted a respectable man, then was he bound, in his conscience, to withhold from Mr. Oastler this much valued and highly-prized epithet. The noble Lord read several extracts from speeches of Mr. Oastler, to show that he did what he could to agitate the people and excite them to violence. Amongst others, that Gentleman had stated that her Majesty's Ministers, in their crawling, dirty, shabby career, had gone too far, and were much mistaken if they supposed that they could cheat the inhabitants of the hills and vallies of their just rights, without meeting with some sudden attacks. Now, surely this respectable Gentleman did not mean by that, that her Majesty's Ministers would be attacked with apoplexy? Mr. Oastler had recommended the people to become acquainted with the figures of the Poor-law Guardians and other persons connected with the administration of that law, and concluded one of his speeches by saying, "the Poor-law repealed or war to the knife." Surely such language as this could not lead to any advantage; on the contrary, it was only calculated to excite and injure those for whose supposed benefit it was employed. The mode of granting relief had been complained of, but he was quite certain that to break through the rule requiring the paupers to enter the workhouse would be to break through the principle of the Poor-law Amendment Act. If the rule laid down were to be departed from, and the rule contended for by the opponents of the Poor-laws admitted, then out-door relief of the worst description would be again resorted to. To grant out-door relief in the manner proposed would amount, in fact, to paying wages out of the poor-rates, a mode of relief which had been so much and so justly 1246 complained of. If such a mode of relief were again resorted to, a door would be opened to all manner of abuses, and the consequences would be most injurious not only to the rate-payers, but to the poor themselves. He urged on his noble Friend to reconsider the course he was pursuing. The noble Earl said, that he was an enemy to the Poor-laws, and that he would wage an eternal war against them; but he would ask, whether it would not be better for the noble Earl to bring the enemy to a pitched battle at once rather than carry further his present system of warfare? The noble Earl had said, that he had turned away one of his tenants, not because that tenant became a guardian of the poor, but because, having an interest as landlord in the house where that tenant resided, he was afraid that, in consequence of that individual becoming a guardian, his property might be sacrificed. The noble Lord admitted, that his tenant had a perfect right to become a guardian if he pleased; but he was afraid of the excitement which the operation of the Poor-laws created, and that the moment a riot took place his house would fall before the indignation of the people. He hoped, however, that the noble Earl did not act on the same principle in regard to the Poor-laws; that he was not, by his opposition to the Poor-law Amendment Act, seeking to lay up for himself "the mammon of unrighteousness." He trusted the noble Earl was not guided by any such selfish consideration in the course he was pursuing in regard to that measure; that he was not seeking, by opposing the Poor-laws, to save his own property, should the riots he feared actually take place. No, he was certain the noble Earl was guided by no such motives. He knew the noble Earl acted conscientiously, and that he believed the course he was pursuing was the best; yet he hoped the noble Earl would reconsider the mode of opposition he had adopted. There was the enemy, the Poor-law Amendment Act, and the three kings, or the three despots, as they were called; and he would ask the noble Earl whether it would not be better to have a pitched battle with them at once? The noble Earl said, that he was unwilling to give up the names of those persons from whom he derived his information; but if their names were stated, then the Poor-law Commissioners would have an opportunity of inquiring into those cases which 1247 the correspondents of the noble Earl communicated, and if the result of that inquiry were not satisfactory, then the noble Lord could bring forward such cases as he thought deserving of attention, and, under such circumstances, he would come forward on much better ground, as their Lordships would then have something tangible before them. In his opinion, therefore, it would be better for the noble Earl to move at once for the appointment of a Committee, where all cases of complaint in reference to any part of the operation of the Poor-law Act could be brought, and where witnesses in regard to those cases could be examined upon oath. The supporters of the measure defied its opponents to have recourse to investigation before a Committee—they were ready to meet the opponents of the Poor-law on every particular in regard to the conduct of the Government, and of the Poor-law Commissioners; and all they asked for was, that specific charges should be brought forward, instead of vague generalities. If an inquiry were gone into, and if one case of oppression or of hardship was proved arising from the rules which had been issued, then let public indignation fall upon the Commissioners; and if oppression and hardship were proved to be general, then let that indignation fall upon the measure itself. If, however, the result should be different, or if investigation were refused, then the supporters of the Poor-laws had a right to expect that they would hear no more of general charges which it was impossible to meet. He hoped when the noble Earl next brought forward the question of the Poor-laws he would adopt a manly, open, and straightforward course, and adduce such specific charges as could be openly and fairly met.
The Bishop of Norwich
, having been alluded to by the noble Earl opposite, wished to say a few words on the question before their Lordships. The noble Earl was not a guardian; he was an active guardian of the poor, and had given his best attention to the operation of the Poor-law Amendment Act. The noble Earl had never visited the places which he called prisons; he had done so frequently. He had lately visited the workhouse of a union in his neighbourhood, and had carefully investigated the condition of the inmates. He had asked the poor whether they had anything to com- 1248 plain of, and not a shadow of complaint was stated by any one. He had asked whether they were satisfied with their condition, and with the provision which was made for them, and the answer was invariably "Yes." And what was the result of the course which he had pursued? The poor of that union knew he was a friend to the Poor-laws, and shortly after he had visited the workhouse to which he had alluded he received unanimously the thanks of the poor. So much for those asylums which the noble Earl called prisons.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
would not, at so late an hour, trespass on their Lordships' attention at any length in replying to the arguments which had been brought forward in the course of the debate. It had been argued, that there ought to be no departure from the rule which had been laid down for regulating the relief granted to the poor, but in his opinion it would be much better if a discretionary power were permitted to the guardians to grant outdoor relief in cases of emergency. It had been also stated that no names had been given of those complaining of the operation of the New Poor Law; but he believed that in every case the individuals complaining were willing to afford every opportunity to the Government to make inquiry in regard to such cases as they had communicated. It had been further said, that a full investigation ought to take place; and if the papers he had moved for should not prove satisfactory, or if the cases to which those papers had reference were not satisfactorily answered, then he should certainly move for the appointment of a Committee; and if that Committee were granted, he was persuaded, notwithstanding what had fallen from his noble Friend (Earl Stanhope), that he would not then refuse to give the names of those individuals who had communicated to him the different cases which his noble Friend had brought forward.
§ The returns moved for were ordered.
The Earl of Radnor
said, after the length to which the debate on the motion of the noble Lord opposite had been carried, he would not enter at any length upon the subject to which the motion of which he had given notice had reference. There was was one point, however, on which he wished to say a few words. The great grievance was, that it was not permitted to adopt in the workhouses the diet table adopted in 1249 the workhouses in the city of London Union. Now, it would perhaps be some consolation to the opponents of the Poor-laws to state the substance of a communication he had received relative to the dietary of the Dudley Union workhouse. In that workhouse a number of the paupers fell sick, and a suspicion arose that their illness was simply dyspepsia caused by overfeeding. They were, in consequence, put upon spare diet; they were all owed no butcher's meat, and the effect was altogether miraculous; the number of sick dwindled from 130 to twenty. The noble Earl moved for certain papers relative to the dietary of the Dudley Union workhouse; and for other papers relating to other workhouses, for the purpose of showing the effect of the diet table generally adopted throughout the country.
§ Papers ordered accordingly.