HL Deb 02 March 1847 vol 90 cc660-5

moved for the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the operation of the Poor Removal Act of last Session (the 9th and 10th Vict. cap. 66). As he did not think there was any probability of the House refusing to accede to the Motion, he would only very shortly state the grounds which induced him to call their Lordships' attention to the subject. Their Lordships were aware that there was an Act entitled the "Poor Removal Act," which passed through Parliament last year, and which received the Royal Assent on the 26th of August. It so happened that this Act had been framed in such a manner that it was hardly possible to find two men who could agree as to how it should be carried out. It had been avowed by those who framed the Bill, that the construction which had since been put upon the first clause of it by Her Majesty's Attorney and Solicitor General was one which they did not anticipate. The fact was, that the clause stated that persons who had resided for five years within a parish, although they had not a parish settlement, could not be removed from such a parish, provided that the time during which they had been in gaol, in hospital, in a lunatic asylum, or received relief, was not computed as part of the five years. Now, the Attorney and Solicitor General had given it as their opinion that the first part of the clause was retrospective, but that the proviso was not retrospective. The consequence had been that throughout all the boards of guardians in the country, there was great difference of opinion as to how the Act should be obeyed; and he believed that if the Act remained in force unexplained, it would produce litigation to an endless extent. If, for instance, the auditor should entertain a contrary opinion to that of the Attorney and Solicitor General, he might disallow the relief given, and that could only be rectified by removing the case by certiorari to the Court of Queen's Bench; and he was afraid, from the extent of business before that court, that a decision could not be come to for some time. Then there would be appeals from the quarter-sessions, whichever way the cases were decided there; and those also would have to come before the Court of Queen's Bench. In these circumstances he thought that a Committee of Inquiry to look into the matter, and report as to its working, was most desirable. He had stated upon a former occasion, and he now repeated, that the Act had been most unjust to the ratepayers, and highly prejudicial to the poor, and especially to that portion of the poor who were entitled to the most favourable consideration of their Lordships. The Act had, indeed, been drawn in the most clumsy way imaginable; and the cause of this and similar Acts being allowed to pass in this clumsy form was, that they were generally brought up to their Lordships' House at the end of the Session, when most of their Lordships had gone into the country, and when, even if they were all there, not one tithe of the measures then presented to them could be properly considered. He did not give any opinion of his own as to the construction of this Act; he grounded his Motion for a Committee solely upon the fact of the difference of opinion which prevailed on the subject, and upon the universal feeling which existed that Parliament could not meet together without either repealing the Act, or passing a declaratory Act stating what it meant.


thought, and he believed the House would think, that the noble Duke had laid before their Lordships good parliamentary grounds for inquiry. Undoubtedly there were great doubts as to the operation of the Act; and it was right that those doubts should be removed as early as possible. The noble Duke was, perhaps, aware that a Committee had been appointed on the subject by the other House of Parliament, and that they had already presented a special report on the law of settlement. Whether the noble Duke had seen that report, and whether, having seen it, he was still disposed to think that another Committee was necessary, he could not say; but at all events, it would be convenient that it should be communicated to their Lordships.


said, he found that the Act to which the noble Duke had referred, received the Royal Assent on the 26th of August. Now, who could expect that at the 26th of August, or for fourteen or sixteen days preceding, any very deliberate attention would be given to the subject of pauper removals, when so many of their Lordships were busy with removals of a totally different description—removals, not from one parish to another, but from one state of being to another—from the Legislature to the larder. Late, however, as was the last Session when the Poor Removal Bill passed, it was not the last Act passed during the last Session, for he found that 117 Public and General Acts were passed, 402 Local and Personal Acts, and 51 Private Acts; the amount of their legislative labours last Session having ended in no less than 570 new laws, the greater part of which were brought into that House for the superintending care of that most truly legislative portion of the Legislature, the Upper House of Parliament, just when they were breaking up. It was not surprising that so much doubt should have arisen as to the construction of one of the number; for Acts of Parliament now-a-days were made up in so slovenly a way, that no human power could tell their meaning. The draught often ran, "as is hereinbefore provided," when nothing was provided, and you found such expressions as "the aforesaid" so and so, when nothing was aforesaid. And why? Because they were done in a hurry, and with the scissors. The framer of a Bill cut out with his scissors a clause from one Act, and a clause from another, and did not cut out the relative clauses. Of that every man was aware, who had been called upon to examine Acts of Parliament, and very much of the time of courts of common law, as well as of the quarter-sessions, where they had not the same advantages for the explanation of laws, was consumed in reconciling their inconsistencies. So that one might very well say, as Lord Tenterden said, when he found it impossible to construe an Act of Parliament, though that was a matter of every-day occurrence in the court over which he presided, "We cannot say that a Legislature is inops consilii, but we may truly say that it is magnas inter opes inops;" and he (Lord Brougham) believed that every one who heard his Lordship's observation was aware that it was not more pungent than true. A remedy for these evils might probably be found in a plan submitted by a committee of the Law Amendment Society to the late Lord Chancellor and First Lord of the Treasury, for giving to a board the power, not of superseding, but assisting the Legislature, and each of the Members of the Legislature, in forming Acts of Parliament, so that they should not be drawn as one man might now draw them, without looking to any other Act; but every other Act on the subject should be consulted. To this plan the late Lord Chancellor and First Lord of the Treasury had promised to give their most earnest attention; and he should furnish his noble Friend on the Woolsack and the noble Lord in the other House with a copy of the report in which it was contained, hoping that as they had succeeded to the offices lately filled by those to whom he had alluded, they would also have succeeded to the attention which they had promised to show to the plan he advocated. Before sitting down, he wished to set an hon. and learned Friend of his right on a point connected with the subject which had given rise to this discussion. Allusions had been made elsewhere to an opinion delivered by Mr. Hill, which had led to a somewhat incorrect statement of the course of conduct pursued by that gentleman professionally. The opinion of Mr. Hill had been taken about thirteen months ago, long before it became the subject of public mention, and before the controversy arose with respect to the conduct of the Poor Law Commissioners. A case had been laid before him in the usual way by an attorney for his opinion; and he in the usual way gave an answer to that case. Mr. Hill was called upon to say what in his opinion, as a lawyer, was the right and legal construction of an Act of Parliament; and he had given his opinion. In that opinion it was needless to say, whether Lord Lyndhurst and himself concurred or not; he (Lord Brougham) would only say that, in a statement which came before them, they entirely concurred in that opinion. The subject had come before them in a totally different way; and they had given their opinion privately as to the construction of the Act in reference to the conduct of the Poor Law Commissioners. Every one knew that the slightest difference in the facts might considerably alter a lawyer's opinion upon a case; but upon the facts stated to him, Mr. Hill had written the opinion in question, and given it to his client. Mr. Hill had not the slightest idea that it would be made public; for aught he knew, it might have been asked for by the very parties themselves, the Commissioners or their secretary. For aught he (Lord Brougham) knew, it was; he was not at all sure that it was not. It was said that Mr. Hill had taken a great deal upon him; but a man could not do less, when asked for his opinion, than state what in his opinion the law was. Mr. Hill might have been asked, were the Commissioners justified in what they had done? and he might have answered no; but he had given his opinion in a much less peremptory and decisive manner, and one not at all dogmatic. When the Poor Law Amendment Act passed in 1834, Mr. Hill was Member for Hull, and instead of being the adversary of the measure, was its strenuous supporter, and had not all along changed his opinion upon that question. As a lawyer he was bound to give the opinion he had given.


was sure that the vindication of his friend, Mr. Hill, offered by his noble and learned Friend opposite, was most complete, and that the conduct of that gentleman had been perfectly correct. Upon the merits of the question before their Lordships, he most heartily concurred in the propriety of granting the Committee.


thought the great mistake of the Act was, that it did not give a settlement in the parish where the person was resident. It prevented persons resident for a certain length of time in a parish from being removed, but it did not give a settlement; and in consequence of this, the evils suggested by his noble Friend opposite had arisen. It was right in principle, but it did not go far enough.


agreed that it would have been better, if the Act had gone farther; but it could not be carried farther, because the country was not prepared for it.

Motion agreed to. Committee appointed.

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