§ On the question that the Bill do pass,
begged to draw their Lordships' attention to a Clause which he had to propose, relative to the alterations introduced by the bastardy Clauses of the present Bill into the Poor Law. The subject was one to which he had already drawn their Lordships' attention, by pre- 1919 senting a petition last year from a Board of Guardians, relative to the regulations enforced towards women in a state of pregnancy at the Union Workhouses. There were several classes of persons to whom these regulations were equally applicable, and in all cases alike. On the one hand, there was a number of poor creatures, who were already contaminated by their constant contact with the debased and the profligate; on the other hand, there were some to whom it would be an act of kindness as well as of Christian charity, to remove them from the scene of their temptation and guilt, and from the constant associations of that nature to which such contact exposed them. Whether this was to be best effected by the entire removal of these unfortunate creatures from the workhouse, he would not say. And thirdly, there was a class of women, who came within the operation of the law in question, who had never, up to the moment when they were thus situated, been found in contaminated or habitually vicious company. Now, nothing, in his opinion, could be more lamentable, than for young women who had committed a first offence of this kind, probably through inexperience or weakness, to find themselves condemned to pass their days and nights, whilst undergoing the consequences of their folly or guilt, in such contaminating society as that to which he had referred. Nothing could be better, in his opinion, or more calculated to recal these young women to a sense of shame and to the paths of virtue, than to restore them to their mother's care. If their Lordships took the same view of the case that he did, they would probably agree to the Clause which he had to propose; and he must in defence of it observe, that there was universally to be observed a distinction between the first offence of the nature to which it referred, and every subsequent lapse of that kind. The course which he proposed would restore the character of young women who might have the folly to commit the crime referred to; and in further justification of the views which he had so imperfectly explained, he must refer their Lordships to the contents of the petition from an extensive parish, which he had presented on a former occasion. The noble Lord concluded by moving a Clause, which enacted that out-of-door relief should be given to young 1920 unmarried women in a state of pregnancy, in all cases where that was the first occasion upon which relief of that nature, or upon such a ground, was required.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
objected to the Clause, and described it as another branch of the out-door relief part of the Poor Law Bill. If any case of real hardship, such as the noble Lord contemplated to afford some mitigation or relief to, were to come under the notice of the Boards of Guardians, there was, he would venture to assert most confidently, no doubt whatever, that in all such cases the Guardians would, upon application to the Commissioners, obtain permission to administer out-of-door relief; he therefore objected to the Clause as wholly unnecessary.
§ Clause negatived.
begged to trouble their Lordships again, whilst he stated the object of a second Clause which he had to propose, to the effect that whenever it should be necessary for a married pauper to quit his wife and family, for the purpose of seeking work out of his own immediate neighbourhood, it should be lawful for the Board of Guardians to administer relief to the wife and family of such pauper during his temporary absence. The subject of the Clause which he had just read to their Lordships was one not unworthy of their deepest consideration. On looking at the Returns relative to the number of the vagrant poor, and their committals for having deserted their families, he found that no fewer than 3,930 persons had been so committed, out of whom, the number of those who, it appeared, had left their homes and families with the bonâ fide intention of seeking; work, and of providing for them by their labour, was no less than 3,591. These persons had been considered as equally guilty—many of them, being honest and well-intentioned, industrious labourers, had been punished; the fact of their having left home being construed into an act of vagrancy, and themselves in consequence treated as rogues and vagabonds—and some of them had been accused of absconding with the view of deserting for a permanency their wives and children. What was the effect of such treatment? It was to place a man in the highest degree praiseworthy on the same level in point of guilt and of punishment, with one of the wickedest of human beings. A man loving and cherishing his wife and 1921 family is thrown out of employment, he leaves them for another neighbourhood, in order to find work, and to give them that, subsistence which he cannot procure at home. Having no friends, and being deprived of all resources, he sees the Union Workhouse before him, and he goes away from home to seek for work. This man, acting in the praiseworthy way he had described, and stimulated by the most laudable motives, stood in the situation of a culprit, as far as the Poor Law was concerned. He found himself classed as a person absconding from his family, and charged with an intention never to return to it; and it was frequently, too often he might say, found, that whilst every feeling in such a man's breast was a right and proper one, he was placed in the same category with the guilty person who deserted his family, and punished as such. It was found, practically speaking, that one labouring man was really and truly criminal in this respect, whilst another was only nominally apparently so; and yet the same measure of punishment was awarded to both, for they were confounded together in the eye of the law. If the Amendment which he had to propose were to be adopted, there would be none of the stringency of the Vagrant Act taken away; it would still retain all its force, and persons really culpable, would still be liable to punishment. But what he desired to introduce into the present Bill was an enactment, by which those who could prove to the satisfaction of the Board of Guardians that they intended to provide for the subsistence of their families, by leaving their homes in search of work, and that they had a fair prospect of procuring work by so absenting themselves, should be relieved from the stigma to which they were at present subjected, in consequence of such laudable exertion. And that consideration led him to make another reflection upon the subject, and to ask their Lordships how many labouring men there might not be who, dreading such a charge, or suffering under the consequences of it, would not rather stay at home and remain in idleness at the expense of the parish, than, by leaving their families in search of work, expose themselves to an accusation of that nature. On the grounds, therefore, stated by him, though he was aware the Amendment might be resisted—as, indeed, there might be grounds alleged for resisting 1922 every suggestion—he begged to move the Clause to which he had referred in his opening remarks.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
objected to the Clause, because it held out a premium to those persons who should hereafter abscond from their families. If the labourer out of work was honest and industrious, and bore a trustworthy character, there would be no difficulty whatever in finding him work in his own parish.
§ Clause negatived. Bill passed.