HL Deb 10 May 1838 vol 42 cc1077-80
The Earl of Harewood

, according to notice, rose to present a petition from Otley, and other townships in Yorkshire, against a repeal of Gilbert's Act, under which the Carlton union is governed. The noble Earl stated, that he particularly wished to guard their Lordships from confounding the present petitioners with the class of persons who were opposing the working of the new Poor-laws throughout the country. They, however, had objected to the introduction of the new system into their districts, because it had been allowed by the Poor-law Commissioners themselves on their visit there, that there was no ground whatever of complaint in their management of the poor; and in what they had done in opposing the introduc- tion of the new system, they had merely given an expression of their wishes and opinions in a matter in which they were entitled to have a voice. He thought the formation of larger unions, by adding together twenty or thirty parishes or townships already, was most injudicious. This system, if persisted in, must bring the whole law to a dead lock, it could not work on such a scale. They might administer what might be termed the deviations from the new law, that was the outdoor relief, but the system itself, which was that (as we understood) of workhouse relief, could not be administered on this extensive arrangement.

Earl Fitzwilliam

said, it was hardly necessary for the noble Earl opposite to take the trouble of separating the parties to the present petition from the general mass of opponents to the new Poor-law throughout the country; he was well convinced of the respectability of the petitioners, and of many other persons, who, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, had doubts as to the propriety of adopting the new Poor-law in these parts. But, in his opinion, it would be a curious anomaly in legislation, if they were to allow Gilbert's Act unions to remain in various parts of the country as positive obstructions to the general administration of the new and improved law. He was not surprised, that the guardians of these unions should petition against being superseded, being conscious as they doubtless were, of having generally acquitted themselves of their duties with honesty and integrity; but, at the same time, if the noble Earl had taken the trouble to look into the local positions of these townships, he would have found that they lay in a long and unconnected string, in such a way that it would be utterly impossible to form them into one compact union, whilst severally they could with much more advantage, be incorporated with other adjacent unions. There were the townships of Armly and Wordy, for instance, which were both situated within the borough of Leeds, thereby preventing the Commissioners from forming that great borough into one compact union. He feared also, that upon inquiry it would be found, that very great abuses had crept into some of those unions, and that their houses were places in which jobs to the greatest extent had been carried on. The noble Earl seemed to speak of the work, house as the worst and principal feature of the new Poor-law, in which, however, he (Earl Fitzwilliam) thought the noble Earl looked upon the matter in a wrong light. The workhouse was doubtless an important implement in the hands of the Commissioners—a test to try whether a party was worthy of relief or not; but it was not correct to look upon it as the only means of the administration of relief. The great principle of the new Poor-law was the substituting of the board of guardians for the magistrates at petty sessions, an obvious advantage, as in many cases, the latter could be supposed to have no local knowledge of the matters brought before them.

The Earl of Radnor

said, that although he had no local knowledge of the matter of the present petition, he could not resist saying a few words to their Lordships on the subject of it. It had been a statement very commonly advanced, that the abuses of the old Poor-law were not to be met with in the northern districts of England, and, therefore, that the appearance of the Poor-law Commissioners in those districts was little less than an uncalled for intrusion. Now, all this was quite a mistake. With respect to the unions under Gilbert's Act, the real fact was, that in those very unions, the provisions of Gilbert's Act had not been adhered to. There was one clause for instance, the 32nd, which had been constantly neglected, and which, indeed, he would defy any board of guardians to satisfactorily obey, for this clause required of them, that they should support the poor who were in want, set them to work, take the receipt, and make up the balance of what might be required for their support; and so forth. In another point, also, many of those unions were inconsistent with the measure under which they were established. The act limited them to ten miles in extent; whereas he could show by the map, that many of those unions extended to twelve and fourteen miles. So far from wishing for the continuance of those Gilbert unions, he wished a bill could be introduced to put an end to them.

The Earl of Harewood

said, that what the noble Earl called abuse, he did not consider as such. He did not consider it an abuse of the law to give temporary outdoor relief in cases of temporary distress.

The Earl of Malmesbury

was surprised to hear, that there were as great abuses in the north as in the south. He was not one of those who wished to repeal the present law, but he thought, that certain alterations were desirable. He thought, in the first place, that the local powers, the guardians, ought to have a larger discretionary power, and the Commissioners less. One of the great principles of the constitution was, that those who raised the taxes, should have the power of applying them to the object for which they were raised. He must also say, that there ought to be a uniformity of action under the law, and that a different rule ought not to be applied to the manufacturing classes of Yorkshire, and the agricultural labourers of Hampshire.

The Duke of Richmond

said, that the noble Earl was anxious for uniformity, but surely the giving a discretionary power to the boards of guardians, was not the way to obtain that uniformity. The result of giving such a power, would be, that in union A there would be one set of laws, and in union B, a different set. Such a power would also, he thought, give rise to great suspicion on the part of the labourers, on the score of favouritism, and would, in the end, lead to universal dissatisfaction.

The petition laid on the table.

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