HL Deb 06 August 1846 vol 88 cc351-8

moved the Order of the Day for the Second Reading of the Poor Removal Bill. He would beg to remind the House that the Bill was read a second time in the House of Commons, precisely in the shape in which it at present stood; that after the second reading of it in the other House, an instruction was moved, which was calculated to make a very extensive alteration in the principle and character of the measure; that that instruction was agreed to; but that when the Bill came to be considered in Committee, that instruction was rejected, and the Bill was sent up to their Lordships in its original form. He certainly should not stand forward for the purpose of recommending them to pass the present Bill if he thought that this measure was to be the end of legislation on the subject; for he must confess that the question of settlement was in a very unsatisfactory state, and no one could doubt that at an early period the whole subject must be brought under the notice of Parliament, and the whole question must be fully gone into. But, however ready every one must be to admit that, yet at the same time every one must be equally ready to admit that the question was one of extreme difficulty. Upon the several features of the question he did not as yet feel qualified to pronounce an opinion one way or the other, reserving what he might have to say till the whole question came before Parliament. But though the Bill then before them might not accomplish all that they wished, yet in his opinion that formed no sufficient reason why they should not try to obviate some of the more crying evils which arose out of the Poor Law. As their Lordships perfectly well knew, the evils against which the present Bill was directed were these: A man went from an agricultural parish to a manufacturing town, and there he spent thirty or forty years of his life, giving to that town the full benefit of his labour during the best portion of his life; yet he was not entitled to receive from it any relief should he require it in sickness or old age, but was sent back to the district from which he originally came. This it would be generally admitted was a great hardship, as well to the poor man, as to the parish which was burdened with his support, without having enjoyed his labour; and it was to meet that case that this Bill was introduced. A strong expectation ws excited when the Corn Bill was proposed, that some such measure as this would be brought forward; and it was to meet that feeling that he now asked their Lordships to give their consent to the second reading of the Bill.


was decidedly of opinion that the measure now brought forward ought to be postponed till another Session of Parliament. The noble Earl said till the next Session; then why make any change till the whole question was fairly and fully before Parliament? He thought the present Bill was calculated to occasion a great deal of litigation. The alterations which the measure made in the law of settlement would give the magistrates a great deal of useless trouble, and after all afford no relief to the poor. Ministers by the Bill professed to do much, and in fact did very little, or rather did nothing. Members of both Houses had been called upon not to oppose the repeal of the Corn Laws, because a great boon to the landed interest was to be introduced in connexion with that great change in our commercial policy; and they were asked not to express any opinion until they saw its real character; and now this great boon was under the consideration of their Lordships. Let them now see what this great boon was—it amounted to this—that a man, after five years' residence in a parish, could not be removed, but might go into a neighbouring parish, and in that way leave his native place still liable to his maintenance. He was adverse to union settlements; if they once admitted union settlements the poor would be ground into dust. Why not have parochial settlements? And when a man had lived five years in a parish, why not declare that he should have a settlement in that parish? Supposing a man went from the county of Kent to a manufacturing town, lived there, married there, died there, where would the settlement of his widow and children be under this Bill? It would be in some agricultural parish in the county of Kent. Then why not at once declare that residence should create complete settlement? To do that would be much better than to proceed with this sort of patchwork legislation. He thought it would be much better to withdraw that little paltry Bill, than to waste the time of the House with it. A general alteration of the law of settlement was a matter of very great importance; and whenever it came under the consideration of Parliament, he dd hope that means would be taken for affording some relief to real property, which now suffered such burdens that it was not able to bear.


said, this Bill was not the one intended to be brought forward by the late Government, and he could not, therefore, support it. [Earl GREY: It is the same Bill exactly.] Then, if it were the same, he must say that alterations were introduced into it in the House of Commons which completely changed it from that contemplated by the late Government as supplementary to the Corn Bill. The object of the late Government was to relieve the agricultural parishes from the expense of taking care of those of their parishioners who in early life went into the manufacturing districts, and came back to their native place in old age. The object was to give them a settlement in the manufacturing districts to which they migrated; whereas the Bill under consideration did not confer that settlement. Amendments had been introduced in the fifth clause of the Bill which totally set aside that principle.


observed that it was a trumpery measure; but he thought it might be of some use, and therefore he should not vote against it. It was good for this much, that it went to establish the principle that residence created, or ought to create, a settlement.


said, he had understood from the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Lansdowne) that this Bill was to be postponed till the next Session; and therefore he had been led to suppose that Her Majesty's Government were not acting as a Government in respect to this Bill, but that it was taken up individually by the noble Earl. It appeared now that this Bill was not the Bill first introduced by the late Government. He understood it to be intended by the measure of the late Ministry that five years' residence should give a settlement: that would be no boon to the agricultural districts or to the pauper, who would be obliged to go to the magistrates to ascertain whether he had a residence of five years; and, suppose the magistrates made an order, there might be an appeal, and all the evils of the old law of settlement. If this Bill was passed, there would be an unwillingness on the part of the Government to deal with a question of this magnitude next Session; and this Act would remain a disgrace to the Statute-book.


hoped, as the noble Earl had stated, that he proposed to bring the question of settlement under the consideration of Parliament next Session; and as this was a question affecting the interests and feelings of a great body of the labouring classes, Her Majesty's Government would consent to the postponement of this measure. It was said that this Bill was brought forward as a boon to the agricultural interest: he was convinced that if it passed it would be productive of endless litigation in a few months. What was to be considered residence? Was it the occupation of a hovel or a hut, in which a man might have resided for a certain number of weeks? A five years' residence would have been the better course; but the Bill did not place the law on that basis. He suggested that it should be compulsory on the counties, if they had not room in their asylums for poor lunatics, to find some accommodation, and that no poor lunatic should be removed out of the county, where he was totally deprived of any communication with his friends, He instanced the case of a poor woman who had been removed to the county of Durham, 300 miles from hee friends. It was so cruel a case, that if the opportunity had been given to him, he would have received that poor person into his own house.


said, that the noble Earl (Earl Ellenborough) was in error in supposing that this Bill differed substantially from that brought in by the late Government. It never was intended to give industrial residence in a parish in which a party had resided five years. What was intended was to provide exemption from removal; that where a person had resided five years he should not be liable to removal, but in the event of his removal—for instance, from Manchester to London—he would not be entitled to relief in the parish to which he removed. He admitted that this was not a perfect and complete measure; it could only be considered as a stepping stone; but, as far as it went, he thought it a great improvement on the present state of the law, and that it would tend to prevent the recurrence of those hardships of which the noble Earl had so feelingly spoken. He therefore trusted that their Lordships would not reject this Bill, which had been fully discused in the present House of Commons. It was part, if not the whole, of the Bill which had been introduced by the late Government, and carried into effect the intentions with which that Bill was brought before Parliament.


said, if this Bill had been unaccompanied by the promise made by the noble Earl, he should not vote for its second reading, because he thought the Bill essentially a bad Bill; and that it would lead to additional litigation. But he saw that the Bill was substantially the same as that introduced by the late Government, who were answerable for it. The promise which now accompanied the Bill was of great importance; and he should therefore be sorry to throw cold water upon it. The Bill pointed out the principle of settlement gained by residence, though in an imperfect manner; and if that principle was carried out in future legislation, they had a prospect, upon a review of the whole law of settlement, of the question being set at rest.


did not intend to divide the House; but he would ask the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack how they were to take residence? Whether a poor man was to lose residence by going a hop picking? The whole of the Bill would create litigation; there was an appeal in every line.


said, that he wished to say a few words, being much concerned in the administration of these laws. He thought it a hardship that Scotch or Irish paupers should be sent from the place in which they had been working for years to a distant county with which they might have no connexion. He did not think the Bill went far enough, because he thought that residence ought to give a settlement. If the interests of the poor only were consulted, it would be advisable to have no settlement at all. If they were in a situation to be relieved, the settlement was only a matter of hardship. But the question was between the interests of parishes and the interests of the poor, between which a proper line must be drawn. The proper principle was to give a sufficiency of justice to parishes on the one hand, and avoid inhumanity on the other. In the 9th Report of the Poor Law Commissioners, there was a singular statement showing in what light the poor who were removed considered their removal. It would be a difficult matter for magistrates how they were to understand the word residence. He was quite sure that most benches and most magistrates on the bench would differ on that point. It struck him that the difficulty might be got over in this way. Every person who was a householder ought to be on the rate book, whether he was a pauper or not. If that were taken as a means of proving that he belonged to the parish, that would include every person as a resident. The principle of allowing a claim to settlement on account of residence, however, appeared to him so just that he would support the second reading of the Bill.


thought that it would be satisfactory if the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack gave his opinion as to the exact definition of "residence."


knew, from experience, that it was excessively inconvenient, if it were not useless, to lay down any abstract definition. He would much rather not give any abstract opinion as to what was "residence." It might apply to a vast variety of cases; but he believed that, so far, there had been found practically no difficulty. Their Lordships might recollect that in Scotland residence did give a settlement, and there had been found no practical difficulty.


hoped, that if not altogether withdrawn, the consideration of this Bill would be postponed, and that a more perfect measure would be introduced next year.


said, that as it was the intention to take the sense of the House on the second reading of the Bill, he would briefly state the grounds upon which he would give his vote. He greatly regretted that there had been any misunderstanding on the part of the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury) as to the day upon which the Bill would be brought forward for a second reading. Nothing had been further from his wish than to throw any obstacles in the way of the noble Marquess in opposing the progress of the Bill, and he would name any day for going into Committee most convenient. He was anxious, however, that the measure should be allowed to proceed, for he considered, in the first place, that there was involved in this Bill a very great principle which it would be wise and salutary to place on their Statute-book; and he felt convinced that if that principle were once granted, it would be found to be the foundation of a wiser and better legislation hereafter. He would admit, certainly, that the Bill was only an imperfect application of this principle. Another reason which impelled the present Government to persevere with the Bill was anxiety not to show themselves remiss in following up any of those measures of the late Government to which it was considered the landed interest, at the time and in consequence of the passing of measures to which that interest was opposed, was entitled. It had not appeared, from what had been said, that the compensation would be received by their Lordships with any very great satisfaction; but the Government could not forget that, when introduced into the other House, the Bill had been looked upon in that light, and had been supported by the great majority of those representing the landed interest. The Bill was now before their Lordships as it had come from the late Government; and as it had been thus brought forward, after the promise of compensation, Her Majesty's present Ministers had felt themselves bound to accept it in the shape in which it had been left. They were, therefore, not pledged to the opinion that this was the best form in which the principle, of which they approved, could appear. Up to this moment, and until this enactment, there had existed a cruel, unjust, and unwholesome principle, as the principle according to which the poor of this country were to be treated and controlled. It had hitherto been the rule that, after a man had expended his industry and spent his life in a particular locality, he was not entitled to have from that locality, in the hour of infirmity and helplessness, however rich and wealthy were the place, that support which his toil and the fruits of his labour had so well earned. It had hitherto been permitted, when all his energies were exhausted, and the means of obtaining a livelihood were no longer within his reach, that he should then be removed from the spot to which his labour had been given, to a place with which he had lost all connexion, and where he no longer had any tie, and where he would then in vain search for house or home. This, it must be admitted, could only be unjust; and he was glad that by this Bill another and a juster principle would be substituted—that where a man had toiled, there he should meet the reward of toil; that from the place to the prosperity of which he had contributed his industry, he should be justified in claiming support and assistance. The object of the Bill was solely to establish this principle as an opening to a future better legislation; and as it had obtained the consent of a large majority of the other House, he thought their Lordships would do well to pause before they thought of rejecting it altogether. Let them accept it as the lever, as the groundwork, for effecting after-improvement.


reminded their Lordships that two years ago, when the late Government was strong in the other House, this much lauded principle received a direct negative. He therefore hoped that, if persevered in, such modifications, when in Committee, would be submitted to as would make the practical working of it facile and harmless.

Bill read 2a. To be committed on Thursday next.

House adjourned.