HL Deb 06 February 1851 vol 114 cc158-61

before putting the question of which he had given notice, respecting the grant of a retiring allowance to Mr. Nicholls, late one of the Secretaries to the Poor Law Board, begged to state I some facts which bore essentially on the merits of his case. Mr. Nicholls was originally a captain in the service of the East India Company. On his retirement from that service he took up his residence in the parish of Southwell in Notts. While in that place he became so impressed with the evils arising from the mismanagement of the poor under the law as it then existed, that he could not refrain from attempting to redress them. He did so with so much success, that in 1832, some years after his removal from Southwell, the system which he had established there attracted the attention of the Commission appointed to inquire into the operation of the poor-laws; and, in consequence of the terms in which he was noticed in their reports, he was applied to on the passing of the New Poor Law, in 1834, to become one of the three Commissioners for the administration of that law. At that time he was holding the situation of manager of the Branch Bank of England at Birmingham, at a salary of 2,000l. a year; and so anxious was the Bank of England to retain the benefit of his services, that on hearing of the application of the Government to him they volunteered to offer him an additional 500l. a year, and intimated, that if he did not think that advance sufficient, they were prepared to give him still more. Mr. Nicholls, with a public spirit which did him much honour, gave up his private lucrative situation for a more arduous and less profitable employment in the public service, and accepted the commissionership. So satisfied was the Government with his conduct in the administration of the poor-law in this country, that when it was in contemplation to extend a similar law to Ireland, he was appointed to visit that country and inquire into the propriety of such a measure. On his report, though shorn of its most important recommendation with respect to mendicancy, was founded the poor-law for Ireland, which passed in the year 1838; and at the end of 1838 Mr. Nicholls was appointed to superintend its execution. Early in the year 1839, his (Earl Fortescue's) acquaintance with that gentleman commenced. He was, of course, by his position as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland at that time brought into constant communication with Mr. Nicholls; and in that and the two following years he had constant occasion to admire the great abilities, the persevering industry, the cheerful good temper and the great self-devotion to the public interests which so uniformly animated his exertions. In the autumn of 1841, he (Earl Fortescue) left Ireland. Mr. Nicholls was removed shortly after; but, without questioning the policy of that removal, it may fairly be said that those who succeeded to his office did not find it easier than he had to overcome the difficulties of carrying out the new system. After Mr. Nicholls returned to England, he remained a member of the Poor Law Board until the constitution of that Board was altered by the Act of 1847, when he was appointed one of the two assistant secretaries, with a salary of 1,500l. a year. Since then Mr. Nicholls had found himself compelled, by impaired health, to give in his resignation; and, after a service of sixteen years, he was not entitled by the constitution of the Poor Law Board to any retiring pension. He (Earl Fortescue) hoped, however, that the justice of the country would not suffer a public officer who had sacrificed to it so much of his personal interests to retire into private life at the age of more than 70, without some provision for his declining years, and some acknowledgment of his valuable services. He (Earl Fortescue) had not had any communication, directly or indirectly, with Mr. Nicholls on this subject; but having witnessed his labours and known his merits during the most trying and most important part of his official career, he felt it a duty not more to Mr. Nicholls than to that House and to himself to say what he had on his behalf. He would now ask his noble Friend the Lord President of the Council, whether it was in the contemplation of the Government to make any provision by way of a retiring pension for Mr. Nicholls?


before answering the question which the noble Lord put to him, begged to say how entirely he concurred in the whole of the statements he had made respecting Mr. Nicholls. With many parts of the statement of his noble Friend he (the Marquess of Lansdowne) agreed, from a personal knowledge of the facts to which they related, and he had no reason to doubt the other circumstances that had been mentioned. Such being the case, he could have no hesitation in stating that the mode of appreciating the merits of Mr. Nicholls, and providing a reward suitable to his services so long and so ably rendered, was under the consideration of Her Majesty's Ministers. When he said this, it must be remembered that any plan for carrying out such an object must be submitted in the first instance to the other House of Parliament, and he therefore thought it inexpedient in that place to state what was the nature of the reward proposed to be conferred on Mr. Nicholls; although he had no doubt that when it was made public, it would prove satisfactory to all parties.


felt it due to Mr. Nicholls, to justice, and to the great system of the poor-law, in the administration of which that gentleman had taken so prominant a part, to declare that Mr. Nicholls had been the great and principal agent in devising the new law, and in carrying it afterwards into execution. He was anxious to state his entire concurrence in all that had been urged by his noble Friend (Earl Fortescue) on behalf of Mr. Nicholls; and he could add this fact of his own knowledge—for his noble Friend opposite (the Marquess of Lansdowne) and himself had been the cause of bringing Mr. Nicholls to town—that with a due regard to his private circumstances, and with a well-founded and proper view to the interests of his family, Mr. Nicholls felt much hesitation in accepting the offer of Government, and that his noble Friend and himself had removed that hesitation by assuring him that his services were—he would not say absolutely, for that would not be true of any man—but were essentially necessary for bringing into effect that great change of the law, of which he might add that Mr. Nicholls was, practically speaking, the originator. Southwell was the parish in which the improvements of the poor-law were first tried; and it was upon the experimental proofs of those improvements that the New Poor Law was framed. After dwelling for some time on the inestimable value of the services of Mr. Nicholls, his Lordship added that he could confirm the assertion of his noble Friend opposite, that partly from a love of his system, and partly from a desire to carry his principles into effect on a great scale, Mr. Nicholls had given up the lucrative appointment under the Bank of England which he held at Birmingham. On a recent change of system, recommended by a Committee of the House of Commons, the salary of that gentleman, as assistant-secretary to the Poor Law Board, had been reduced to something more than half the amount of his salary as manager of the Birmingham branch of the Bank of England, and hence the retirement of a gentleman whose services had been of inestimable value to his country.


who had be-come acquainted with the merits of Mr. Nicholls during his tenure of office in Ireland, bore testimony to the high value of his services, and declared that, of all the men whom he had met in private and public life, Mr. Nicholls appeared to him to be the most honourable.


as late Secretary for Ireland, expressed a similar high opinion of Mr. Nicholls' character and services.


said, that his noble and learned Friend, when speaking of the merits of Mr. Nicholls, might have added, that the poor were better taken care of in England and Ireland under that gentleman's administration of the poor-law than they had ever been taken care of previously.

House adjourned till To-morrow.