HL Deb 29 June 1847 vol 93 cc1049-52

moved the Second Reading of the Poor Law Administration Bill. The chief object of the present measure was to alter the machinery by which the laws for the relief of the poor were carried out in this country. To anticipate that their Lordships must feel the necessity of continuing the powers of the Commission, was only to assume that they thought the Poor Law founded upon sound and just principles, though modifications might be advisable in regard to the administrative body. The question had arisen whether it was expedient that the powers—and they were very great—to be vested in the authority constituted for the administration of the law, should particularly be confided to one person, or be left in the hands of more than one person. After much consideration, Her Majesty's Government had resolved to propose the present Bill; the effect of which would be, that the co-ordinate authority which had hitherto been exercised by three Commissioners would essentially, though not without certain checks and restrictions, be practically intrusted to one individual. That one individual would be, according to an analogy which had been thought appropriate, placed in a position similar to that occupied by the President of the Board of Control. The Bill was intended to secure that effectal co-operation which was desirable among all parties concerned in the proper administration of the law. It was thought advisable that the President of the Poor Law Board should be placed in such a position as to be responsible to Parliament and responsible to the public; and that explanations on questions which might arise should not be given indirectly through one of Her Majesty's Ministers, but directly by the person to whom the power of controlling the administration of the law might be confided. Such were the principal objects of the Bill. There were other provisions for adapting the powers hitherto entrusted to the Poor Law Commissioners to the system now proposed. The noble Marquess (who was but imperfectly heard) concluded by expressing his hope that their Lordships would now give the Bill a second reading. He would propose that it be committed on an early day, when an opportunity would be afforded of stating any opinions which their Lordships might have formed as to the provisions of the measure.


adhered, in all essential respects, to the principle of the original Poor Law measure; and he felt it highly important that nothing should go out to the public which would in the slightest degree indicate any doubt or hesitation on the part of their Lordships in regard to that great and salutary amendment of the law. He felt that it would be unjust if he were not to say that, generally speaking, he entirely approved of the conduct of Mr. Nicholls and his coadjutors; and peculiarly grateful was he to the gentleman he was about to name—Mr. Edwin Chadwick, the Secretary of the Board. He (Lord Brougham) should consider that that most respectable and most able officer of the Board had been worse used than any public servant in his time, if he found the slightest disposition in any quarter to sacrifice him to clamour, a clamour raised against him for the faithful discharge of his duties. Those to whom the administration of the Poor Law was committed, were peculiarly obnoxious to abuse, and slander, and vituperation; and it became the bounden duty of Parliament and the Government of the day jealously to watch over the interests and the fame of those individuals, and to see that they were not abandoned as victims to public clamour. Some of these persona had not shown the firmness in the discharge of their important duties that Mr. Chadwick and Mr. Nicholls had done. He (Lord Brougham) would name no names; but he had before him a statement, not of Mr. Chadwick, but of another and a respectable person connected with many friends of their Lordships, and nearly connected with important Members of the present Government; and the account which he gave of the want of nerve and firmness of some of the Commissioners was such as to show clearly how it happened that the Act had not been thoroughly carried into effect, and that the hopes formed of it were not fully realized. He stated— It was perfectly clear to me, that what was always uppermost in their minds was not how they should best perform their duty, but how they should appease the newspapers, and mollify, by concession, all the objections of the anti-Poor Law agitators. They have encountered the natural result of such conduct, in losing their friends and not gaining their enemies.…. Both, too, were distinguished by another quality, which, in my opinion, absolutely disqualified them from wisely managing the difficult duties of a Poor Law Commissioner. They were literally without any moral courage. A depreciatory paragraph in the newspapers seemed to fill them with the direst alarm, and they were ready to sacrifice any subordinate officer, or any principle of the law it was their duty to enforce, to appease a newspaper clamour, or the demands of an anti-Poor Law agitator.…. Hence the conduct of the Commissioners was especially annoying to me; and, further, rendered my tenure of office very precarious, as I knew perfectly well that they would not hesitate a moment in ejecting me ignominiously, if, in the discharge of my duty, I should ever be made a mark for newspaper attacks. Right or wrong, I should be sacrificed without scruple; and the business of an assistant commissioner is so extremely difficult, and exposed to such obloquy, that the utmost caution cannot preserve him from public attacks and misrepresentations. Persons who undertook to manage the administration of such a law as this ought to know how to resist groundless attacks and bear up against clamour, supported as they must know they would be by Parliament. Nothing could pass more innocuous over the head of an honest man engaged in the discharge of public duties, than attacks made, perhaps, only for the sake of gaining a fleeting, a base, and an ignoble popularity. Popularity, indeed! Those who vigorously administered this Poor Law were really the poor man's friends. This law was made for the sake of the poor—not for the benefit of the rich, nor to save the money of the rich, but to benefit the poor—to redeem their character and restore their independence. They who could best put this principle into execution were the truest friends of the poor. Those persons ought to have disdained popularity and praise obtained only by yielding to clamour; and they ought equally to have despised any abuse, any vituperation, which the firm and faithful discharge of their duties might draw upon them. Falsus honor juvat, et mendax infamia terret Quem, nisi mendosum et mendacem? Or, in an English dress— False honour charms and lying slanders scare Whom but the false and faulty? He (Lord Brougham) must enter his protest against the bad conduct of this measure; the flinching from the performance of duty imposed by it; the yielding to clamour in the performance of that duty; and he only discharged his own duty in doing justice to some of the most useful public servants ever employed by this country, and charged with great and difficult and invidious and delicate public duties.


must enter his protest against bringing the President and Secretary into Parliament, to mix in party conflict. It would be next to impossible to find a qualified person, able to take a prominent part in debate, willing to perform the duties of the office, and having a constituency not likely to be carried away by popular outcry with regard to the Poor Law.

Bill read 2a

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