HL Deb 20 March 1843 vol 67 cc1121-4
The Earl of Rosebery

in rising, pursuant to notice, to call their Lordships' attention for a very few moments to the commission which had been lately issued by her Majesty for investigating the existing system of Poor-laws in Scotland, was anxious in the outset to return his sincere and grateful thanks to her Majesty's Ministers for having instituted this inquiry; because, after much investigation, and many years of observation and reflection, he was strongly of opinion, that however much of merit there might be in some part of the existing system of Poor-laws in Scotland, still the whole required complete revision, and many parts of it very great change. It was a common opinion (in many instances very erroneously imbibed), that the present system of Poor-laws in Scotland, notwithstanding the great change that had taken place in the society and the population of that country, was in itself the best adapted, not only for Scotland, but for almost every other country in which a Poor-law existed at all. He was anxious to take an early opportunity of declaring that he was not one of those who participated in that opinion. On the contrary, he had long thought that there were great defects in the system, which required immediate remedies, and that it produced evils which called loudly for redress. With respect to the composition of the commission, he was aware that the Government must have felt considerable embarrassment and difficulty in the selection of proper persons, and he was ready to acknowledge that those who had been chosen to act in this delicate and difficult inquiry were not only unexceptionable but were well chosen. Also, with regard to the terms in which the commission had been drawn up, they could not have been better expressed. They had the merit of being both sufficiently comprehensive, and sufficiently limited. Upon a subject like this, there ought not to be the least appearance of bias on the part of the commissioners, and he wished, in common with what he was sure was the wish of her Majesty's Government, that a report should be made by the gentlemen constituting the commission, which should command the universal confidence and assent of the country. He could not help expressing therefore, his belief that the names of two or three gentlemen who might be considered as particularly acquainted with the wants and the situation of the great towns, might advantageously have been added to those already appointed. He had no right to anticipate what the report might be—he had not the means of so doing; but even if he had, he should not think it his duty to enter upon any such speculations on the present occasion, or pending the inquiry It was necessary, however, as he had before said, that that report should obtain almost universal assent, and he feared, on account of the omission he had pointed out, that such might not be conceded, particularly if the report took a particular direction. Having stated his only objection to the composition of "the commission, "he must add that he could not agree with those who complained that Dr. Alison had not been included in it. With the highest respect for his general character and qualifications, and for his labours on this particular subject, the very circumstance of Dr. Alison being thus committed to certain persons, and opinions rendered him in his judgment ineligible for this duty. Objections had been made to two rev. gentlemen who had been appointed commissioners; but he thought the Government had exercised a wise discretion in appointing them who were more conversant than most persons with the effects of the present law. He trusted the few remarks he had made would be received in the spirit in which they had been offered,—namely, an anxiety to obtain the greatest amount of good from the inquiry, for it involved questions of the most important kind, and not less difficult than important, as he thought in several points a selection of them would be found more difficult than the amendment of the English Poor-law, or the introduction of one into Ireland.

The Duke of Wellington had

the greatest satisfaction in assuring the House, that the commission had been issued with the view and object stated by the noble Lord, that a report should be made which would give full and entire satisfaction to the country on the subject of the inquiry. He believed that the Government had made such a selection of persons upon the commission as would carry the entire confidence of the public. One of them, a noble Friend of his (the Duke of Wellington's), had long been a Member of the Councils of the Sovereign, and during the whole period he had held a distinguished office in the public service he had performed his duties alike with honour to himself and advantage to the country; he had also been particularly conversant with all matters relating to the internal Government of Scotland. That noble Lord, therefore, was of all others, on the score of his information, as well of his impartiality and of his judgement, a fit member of such a commission, and one the most calculated to bring the inquiry to a result which would be satisfactory to the public. Another noble Lord on the commission had been holding for the last ten years a high situation under the Crown in Scotland, and in the course of that time must have been in communication with the clergy, -and have obtained an intimate knowledge of the wants of the country on this subject. There were two other gentlemen, one of whom had been in the public service, and had also been Member for the great county of Perth, and the other had been connected with Ayrshire. Besides those, there were two clergymen of the Church of Scotland, one a minister of Greenock, and another the pastor of a country parish in the Highlands. Besides those, there was a seventh gentleman, Mr. Twistleton to whom he wished to draw the attention of the House, as having been particularly employed in various enquiries into the distress existing in some of the great towns; he had been employed under the Poor-law Commission in this country and had an accurate knowledge of the working of that law. He had also been sent into Paisley at that period of the distress in that part of the country when her Majesty had thought it proper to send down assistance to relieve that distress; on that occasion that gentleman had been appointed to administer the relief, and had been in communication with the relief committee of the town. That gentleman had made some most valuable reports to his (the Duke of Wellington's) right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, which showed an intimate knowledge of the subject, and a capability of rendering most essential service to the commission engaged in making the present inquiry. He (the Duke of Wellington) was therefore convinced that that Gentleman would supply all deficiencies that might be supposed to exist on account of no person being appointed on the commission who belonged to the great towns. Upon the whole, he (the Duke of Wellington) believed that the commission had been so formed that a report would be made which would enable the public to come to a right judgement on the subject, and that the measure produced in consequence of that report would produce those benefits to Scotland which it was the wish of the noble Earl and all who had turned their attention to the subject to attain.

Lord Campbell

believed that the commission could not have been better selected particularly as regarded the noble Lord at the head of it, who had been a great benefactor to his country. At the same time he (Lord Campbell) agreed with his noble Friend, that it would have been desirable if one or two gentlemen representing great towns, had been added to the commission. He, however, had the greatest confidence in the commissioners, and the report that would be produced by them. Some change appeared to be necessary in the law, but he hoped none would be made in the principle of it.

The Earl of Haddington

remarked that it was impossible but that the condition of the poor in great towns must be known to his noble Friend at the head of the commission. Then there was Dr. M'Far-lane, who was a minister in a large town. The case of the great towns had certainly been attended to by the Government in appointing the commission. One great merit of the commission was, that the number of it did not exceed seven.

Subject dropped.

s Their Lordships adjourned.