§ Earl Stanhope
was desirous of calling the attention of their Lordships to a petition which he held in his hand, which was one of great importance and worthy of their Lordships' attention, as it offered another example, although it might be considered superfluous, of the tender mercies dispensed by the three dictators at Somerset-house, under the New Poor-law Act. It was the petition of John Berry, a labourer, of the Union of Worksop, but residing in the Union of Ecclesall, Bierlow. The petitioner was a native of the parish of St. John, now in the Union of Worksop, and had long resided in the county of Nottingham. He was born in the year 1748, so that his life was already extended beyond the usual period of human existence; and, therefore, he (Earl Stanhope) would ask, upon that statement alone, if no legal provision had ever existed in this country for the relief of the poor, and if the statute of Elizabeth had never been passed, whether a person who during a considerable number of years had maintained himself and family, and shared in the public burdens, had not an undoubted right to demand assistance and support from this country? It appeared that for nearly fifty years the petitioner had been a housekeeper, and that he had regularly paid poor-rates, and never had been chargeable to the parish until of late years. So that not only by a natural right, but by a positive statute, he was entitled to claim relief, of which he and others, in similar circumstances, had been violently dispossessed. Yes, he would 793 say violently dispossessed, without the opportunity and advantage of being heard in their own defence, of that relief by what was falsely called an assembly of the representatives of the people. The petitioner had now attained the age of 91 years, and of course it could not be expected, even by the Poor-Law Commissioners themselves, that he was able to earn his living by his own labour; nor could any flaw be found in his character as to industry and sobriety. It appeared that from the time he had become chargeable to the parish until the enactment of that most monstrous measure of iniquity and oppression, the new Poor-law, he received the small stipend of 4s. per week for the support of himself and wife, 2s. of which they had to pay every week for rent; so that all this poor couple had to subsist upon was just no more than 1s. each per week. But even this miserable pittance, insignificant as it was, appeared too large to the guardians of the union, who, he supposed, found themselves obliged to act under the arbitrary commands of the three dictators of Somerset-house. The result was, that 2s. were withdrawn from the weekly allowance of this aged couple, and having to pay rent to that amount, they had nothing left for subsistence. When they ventured to remonstrate with the guardians against this reduction, their claim for a restoration of the former allowance was refused, and they were told that any further application would render them altogether destitute of relief, for the whole should be withheld. What was the consequence? The goods of this unfortunate and venerable man were seized for rent, and would have been wrested from him, had it not been for a benevolent friend, who interposed and rendered him the necessary assistance. Looking to the moral and religious character and conduct of the petitioner, considering that he had spent a long life in industry, and had proved himself a useful and valuable member of society, he would ask, whether he should not be relieved from penury in his old age, and allowed to spend the remainder of his days in his own home? He would read to their Lordships two or three passages from the petition itself. It stated, "That your petitioner, though very infirm, is very grateful for the many mercies he has received." In speaking of "mercies" their Lordships would understand that the 794 petitioner meant the mercies of Providence, and not the mercies of the New Poor-law. But the petitioner "hopes that he and his aged wife may be permitted to remain and die where now all that they are attached to in this world are resident. He had always understood, that having paid poor-rates during full fifty years, he would be entitled to a maintenance in his old age; that coarser food than bread and water," alluding, he supposed, to the diet, which had been praised in that House by a noble Earl—"that coarser food than bread and water would not be his portion; that, being a free born Englishman, unaccused of any crime, he should not be cast into prison; that being a Christian"—and he begged the attention of their Lordships to this part of the petition—"accustomed regularly to worship God on the Sabbath-day in his holy temple, he should not be debarred from so doing while he had strength and inclination so to do; that after having lived so long happily and affectionately with his wife, he never looked forward to the time when, in violation of the commands of God, they might, unaccused, be put asunder in different prisons, while at their death their bodies might be given to surgeons to be dissected; that your petitioner, understanding that these and many other (as he conceives) unjust hardships, and even some worse, may be inflicted on him and others in similar situations by officers till now unknown in this country, while the long enjoyed right of appeal to neighbouring magistrates against the oppression is taken away from them, most humbly solicits your right hon. House that the good, well-understood, poor-laws may be restored to this his long-loved, long-enjoyed, native country, and your petitioner, for the very short period now remaining of a long life, will, as in duty bound, gratefully pray.—JOHN BERRY."
said, he could not help thinking that there was a great deal of misunderstanding respecting the case adverted to by his noble Friend. Upon one point, undoubtedly, there was a decided mistake. The relief of individual cases was not under the direction of the Board of Commissioners at Somerset-house; it depended entirely on the local boards of guardians; and therefore, whatever errors might he committed, it rested entirely with the board of guardians. He apprehended that inquiry would throw a 795 very different light on this case. There could be no doubt that if this petitioner and his wife had nothing but what they received from the board of guardians, it was not enough. But he could not help thinking that it would be found they had relatives somewhere who were able to support them, and that what was given by the hoard of guardians was given in aid of such support. He had no doubt that a case like the present would receive every consideration from any board of guardians, because he trusted that feelings of humanity were prevalent among those gentlemen of which they were generally composed. He wished the noble Earl would make a little more inquiry into the matter.
§ Earl Stanhope
said, if he had read the petition at length, the noble Baron would have found that this needy person had no relatives whatever, although he might receive casual aid from benevolent individuals. He was so entirely ignorant of the Poor-laws as not to know that the Commissioners were not immediately engaged in dispensing relief; but he knew that the boards of guardians were compelled to act in conformity with the general directions which were issued from Somerset-house.
hoped the noble Earl would have no objection to have the petition copied, and a copy sent to the three dictators at Somerset-house, as the noble Earl called them. It was but fair that they should know the contents of the petition. He would say for those three most worthy, honourable, and respectable individuals, who had a most painful, laborious, and difficult duty to exercise, that he never heard one case brought forward in which they did not anxiously court inquiry. In fact, they had even gone out of their way, notwithstanding the amount of their ordinary business, to prosecute inquiry themselves.
§ Earl Stanhope
said, those three worthy, hon. and most respectable persons, as the noble and learned Lord had called them, seemed to work like moles in the dark, for the newspapers were filled with cases that excited horror and indignation in the public mind, but they never condescended to say, whether they inquired into them, or what was the result of any inquiry they made. They could not be unacquainted with the case of the petitioner.
recommended the noble 796 Earl to give notice of a motion for bringing forward all the cases he pleased, with the names, and he would then undertake to meet the noble Earl as he met him last year. It did so happen, that having met him last year, he did not find him so ready to come on this year. He could not tell the reason of that.
§ Earl Stanhope
said, he could assure the noble and learned Lord, that if he wished him to produce individual cases, he should be ready to do so; but he feared that the House would not be so ready to go into them. He thought there were cases enough to occupy a whole week in merely stating their respective facts. Perhaps his better course would be to move, if the noble Lord opposite had no objection, for a return of any correspondence which had taken place with respect to cases A, B, C, and so on, naming the cases.
§ Earl Stanhope
said, he would do so, if he could be certain of a full and fair inquiry. There had already been an inquiry into some cases before a committee. But what he wanted to see was an inquiry conducted as a case was conducted before a jury in a court of law, which would insure a fair decision. What had happened in the committee of last year? According to the opinion of the committee on four of the papers which came under the investigation, nothing was wrong; but he had given his reasons for dissenting altogether from that opinion. Then with regard to the Bridgewater case, that had not been investigated; the inquiry had commenced, but was "broken off in the middle, like the story of the bear and fiddle." The Suffolk cases were every one of them most clearly proved. No doubt could be entertained of the truth of those cases. But the investigation was conducted in a manner that could not by possibility give satisfaction to this country. He could not with propriety decline serving on that committee, inasmuch as he was one of the defendants, having produced one of the cases which was the subject of inquiry. What was the manner of conducting that investigation? The moment any witness expressed an opinion which was unfavourable to the New Poor Law, he was assailed on all sides; some questions were put to him to confound him, others to confute him; and others hail not for their object the investigation of truth, not to discover 797 whether the fact was true or false, but neither more nor less than to make the witness believe, that he was greatly mistaken in his opinion. He wished the investigation had been conducted as inquiries were in a court of law; then the whole of the cases, not excepting the Bridgewater case, would have been proved. If the course which had been pursued was intended to gain time, or to cast oil on the troubled waves, it might have succeeded, but that was all it had accomplished, or could accomplish.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
must complain of the manner in which the noble Earl had spoken of the committee, because, although the Bridgewater case was not finished, the other four cases were entirely heard. It did so happen that the length of the evidence on the Bridgewater case drove them so far into the Session that the committee found they could not get through it. He thought he had a right to ask what his noble Friend meant by stating that attempts were made to confute, or confound witnesses. It was the duty of witnesses to state facts, and in order to get at facts witnesses must undergo an operation which was not very pleasant, but they underwent the same in the courts of law—they must be cross-examined. In courts of law witnesses were very closely examined and cross-examined, and he was bound to say that his noble Friend had no right to complain of the conduct of the committee. Indeed, he was quite sure, that if the witnesses who gave information, or really had information to give, were asked the question they would not say, that they were not treated fairly by that committee. With respect to the petition, which happened to come from a place not far from his own residence, he was quite sure, from his knowledge of the union to which the man appeared to belong, that it was impossible he could be treated with injustice. The Chairman of the union was the Duke of Portland. Any man who knew that noble Duke must be ready to admit that he was the last man likely to do anything unjust or partial in any degree to any individual. But the truth was, that there was a considerable departure at times from the rule, that no relief should be given out of the union workhouses. It appeared, however, that the union had refused to relieve this man. But there must be some particular reason for that refusal, and he thought it would have been courteous if 798 the noble Earl had communicated with the Duke of Portland. It appeared from the petition, that, after the man had applied to the union, a neighbouring gentleman wrote to the Duke of Portland on the subject, and that the letter was laid before the board, who passed a resolution—"That the case should not be taken into consideration." Now, there must have been some reason for taking that course; and, as his noble Friend had made this charge against the Worksop Union, it would have been only courteous and just to have made the noble Chairman acquainted with his intentions.
§ Earl Stanhope
had not condemned the investigation of the committee on his own authority. He rested on the evidence itself. Notwithstanding what had been stated, he would maintain, that during the investigation it was attempted to confute the witnesses rather than elicit truth, and he must say, that the examinations were the most pettifogging he could conceive.
§ The Duke of Richmond
had seen nothing during the examinations which was not strictly correct. Committees of the House of Lords ought, however, he thought, to object to witnesses saying, "Somebody told me this or that." The way was to bring that somebody before the committee, and not record mere hearsay evidence. In regard to the case which had been brought forward by the noble Earl, it ought to be recollected that under the old system it was not competent for the overseers to order relief out of the parishes, while under the new system relief might be ordered out of the parish, provided the locality was within the union. Under the old system, therefore, matters as regarded the petitioner would have been worse than under the New Poor-law.
§ Petition laid on the Table.