HL Deb 23 July 1861 vol 164 cc1347-59

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


moved that the Bill be now read a second time. The object of the measure was to amend the present law with regard to the class called the irremovable poor. This class of poor was created under an Act passed in 1846, which made a residence of five years in a parish to confer a status of irremoveability. By another Act, introduced by Mr. Charles Buller, when he was President of the Poor Law Board, the support of the irremoveable poor was thrown upon the common fund of the union to which they belonged, the assessment being calculated upon the cost of the relief of the settled poor during the three preceding years. By this law a very large number of poor persons became irremovable; in 1860 no less than 225,000 persons were relieved as irremovable poor, the expenditure on their relief being £780,000. The alterations proposed to be made by the present Bill were these:— It was proposed, in the first place, to diminish the time during which a continuous residence should render a person irremovable from five years to three; and instead of its being necessary that this continuous residence should be within a particular parish, such residence within the limits of any one Poor Law Union should be sufficient to render a person irremovable. It was proposd also to make a change in the mode of raising the common fund from which the relief of the irremovable poor was to be given. Instead of an assessment on the average expense of the settled poor for the past three years, it was proposed that the fund should be raised by a rate on the assessment to the county rate; so that the expenditure from this common fund should be equally distributed according to the county assessment of all the parishes in the union. There were good reasons why these changes should he made, though they would not justify any apprehension or alarm that they would make any great and radical change in the existing law. The present was not a Bill for the abolition of settlement, nor was it a Bill for establishing a union rating. The measure was confined to one particular class of poor, and its ob- ject was to remedy certain evils that had arisen out of the law of 1846 itself. Of the two principal changes, one had reference to the ratepayer, the other looked rather to the interest of the poor. It was obvious that the law of 1846 aggravated the inconveniences which arose in parishes which were in the possession of a few landowners. Independently of the natural desire of the proprietors of such parishes not to be burdened with the charge of a large number of poor, an additional reason for removing them was given by the Act of 1846. Under that Act the charge for the relief of the irremovable poor was calculated on the average expenditure for the relief of the settled poor during three years. It was, therefore, the interest of the owners of parishes to diminish as much as possible the number of the settled poor within their limits. This was a grievance that did not rise from the general principle of the Poor Law; it had arisen wholly under the special legislation of 1846. He called it a grievance, for it certainly threw a burden on the ratepayers of open parishes, or those in the hands of many proprietors, and, undoubtedly, it gave rise to cases of extreme hardship among the poor. The question of the effect of close parishes was one that had been much examined and discussed. He would not push any argument to an extreme, but he knew that in some close parishes there had been an actual diminution of the population compared with parishes belonging to a number of owners. When poor people came in to supply a deficiency of labour, not in a particular parish, but in an entire district, it was a great hardship that the whole cost of their relief should be thrown upon what were called the "open" parishes; yet these parishes were overburdened with poor because land could be procured in them on which residences for labourers could be erected; while the "close" parishes, which benefited by their labour, exempted themselves from contributing to their relief, because they refused to permit them to settle within them. As to lessening the period of residence, one of the greatest improvements made in the administration of the Poor Law of late years had been the decrease of the number of removals. Those removals were to the poor the greatest hardships existing under the administration of the Poor Law system. Most of their Lordships must have seen cases of extreme hardship caused by those removals, and he contended it was their duty to diminish the hardships caused by them. It was proposed to render a man irremovable after a residence of three years—not in any particular parish, but within the union. However much they might be in the habit of praising the parochial system of this country, yet they must remember that these parishes were very ancient divisions, made without reference to the relief of the poor, and by adhering to them great anomalies and much hardship had been created. But the union was a recent division, formed with special reference to the administration of the Poor Law. The Bill did not seek to establish a union rating with regard to the settled poor; all that was sought to be established was to make the area of the union the limit within which a residence of three years should render a person irremovable. Owing to the provision in the law requiring residence in a particular parish to make a person irremovable, it frequently happened that after a man had resided for seven or eight years in a particular house, he lost his right to be considered irremovable by merely moving to a distance of 100 yards, or, perhaps, to the other side of the street in the same village, and rendered himself liable to be removed to a distant part of the country. It was to mitigate that evil of the law of settlement that the change provided by this Bill was proposed. He held in his hand Reports of Poor Law Inspectors and other documents, which contained evidence of the practical hardship which the present law entailed. He would quote a single instance. The precincts of St. Katharine's Dock had no poor, because all the labourers who worked within them resided in neighbouring parishes. Those persons became chargeable on the parishes in which they resided, and the place in which they worked escaped from all responsibility for their maintenance in case they became chargeable on the poor rates. It might be urged that this was a matter which had not been sufficiently inquired into; but really about few subjects had there been more investigation. A Committee of the House of Commons sat in 1847 and produced a blue book containing a great amount of information on the question. In 1848 various Inspectors were sent to inquire into the matter, and during the last three Sessions a Committee had been engaged in going through the whole case. It was on the Resolutions of that Committee that the present Bill, with the exception of one clause, had been based, Very grave questions, both as regarded the law of settlement and the area of chargeability, had occupied the public mind; and no doubt those would be discussed hereafter. It would not, however, be a sound argument, that because their Lordships were not prepared to abolish the law of settlement or to adopt a system of general union rating, therefore, they ought not to make any amendment which the existing law required. Looking to the great changes which had taken place in this country—looking to the manner in which the poor moved from one part of the country to another—and looking to the popular feeling with regard to the law of settlement, he ventured to think it was better for their Lordships to make small and well considered changes than to wait till matters grew to such a head that they might be driven to adopt some sweeping legislation, which, perhaps, might not be so well advised, and which, at all events, would not be so gradual and cautious as those measures which usually marked the progress of legislation in this country.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.


in moving that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said that the candid, lucid, and able statement of the noble Lord who had just sat down convinced him that he had formed a just opinion of the measure when he came to the conclusion that it was an attack upon the English parochial system, and the first step—and by no means an inconsiderable one — towards the establishment of union rating. Poor Law legislation must be based upon the principles of political economy; but it must always ho borne in mind that this was a Christian country, and that such legislation must also be founded upon principles of Christian charity. That was the wise view upon which the legislation of Queen Elizabeth was based, which succeeded the old monkish system of the relief of the poor by charity, and that was also the principle upon which the first Irish Poor Relief Act was founded, which succeeded the system of relief of the poor in that country by the indiscriminate charity of those who were very little removed above the grade of the people who received relief. But there was only one security which could be given that poor relief should be properly administered, and that was by making the area of rating so small that not only should every ratepayer know how the money devoted to that pur- pose was expended, but should be able to make his voice heard in case the mode of expenditure should be called in question. Both modes of relief had been tried in Ireland, and it had been found that small districts of rating worked best. The advantage of small rating districts over large ones was especially shown in the counties of Donegal and Clare. In the latter county, where the districts were large, pauperism was as 39, whilst in Donegal, where the districts were small, the pauperism was only 24½. In England, safe guards were far more needed than in Ireland for the pernicious system of outdoor relief was eating like a canker-worm into the public resources. Such relief was looked upon as a right, and the natural consequence was that children neglect their parents and parents their children; unless that system were kept under strong check the result would be most disastrous and the only thing that could supply an efficient check was having small areas of rating. The effect of this Bill would be to mulct the parishes where the poor where taken care of for the benefit of those parishes where the poor are neglected, and to induce a cruel system of compulsory migrating of the poor from one parish to another, till the time had elapsed which made them chargeable to the union. Their Lordships were again called upon to stand between the House of Commons and the public interests; last year they saved a large amount of revenue, and on this occasion he hoped they would also confer a considerable advantage. Noble Lords who sat opposite had many traditions connected with their party, but they had none more honourable than that which related to the passing of the Poor Law of 1834, which saved the property of the country, and which measure they promoted in the most generous and unselfish manner, and at a great sacrifice of popularity; and he trusted they would pause before, by passing the present measure, they inflicted a fatal blow upon that useful and beneficial system they had themselves established.

Amendment moved, to leave out "now," and insert "this Day Six Months."


said, that having been for many years connected with the Department from which this Bill emanated, he was anxious to say a few words; more especially because the Bill incorporated those principles to which he had always given a ready and cordial adhesion. He thanked the Government for having introduced it. He believed that the working of those principles must prove equally beneficial to the poor and to the ratepayers. In his opinion, the interests of those two classes could not properly be regarded as distinct. Whatever tended to raise the condition of the working classes, to secure to them adequate and just remuneration for their labour, and to mitigate the hardship which must, under the most favourable circumstances, fall to their lot, tended also, in no indirect or remote manner, to promote the interests of employers. As far as he understood the principles of the Act of William IV. and the views of its framers, he drew from them the conclusion that they acknowledged the necessity of, from time to time, introducing measures to extend the privileges of irremovability. He could not, therefore, admit that this Bill was inconsistent with the Poor Law Act, for it was only a just and equitable extension of it. The necessity for facilitating the circulation of labour from one part of the country to another had been recognized by all political economists, from Adam Smith downwards, and was one which need not now be demonstrated. There could be no question that it was of the utmost importance that the labourer should move freely from one part of the country to another, according to the fluctuations of demand and remuneration, and that after the lapse of several years he should not be liable, in the event of sickness or any accident, to be returned to the distant part of the country from which he originally came. In a very able and impressive speech his revered Friend, 'the late Mr. Baines, pictured in minute detail the hardship inflicted upon the labourers by their being torn from their homes and from the place where they had formed near and dear relations, to be sent to some distant parish; and as that right hon. Gentleman was never inclined to over-colour anything it could not be supposed for a moment that his statements were exaggerated. The hardship was recognized by the Legislature, and in 1846 an Act passed which introduced the principle of irremovability with respect to persons who had resided five years in any one parish. This Bill sought to extend that principle and to make it permanent. The noble Lord who moved the Amendment (Viscount Lifford) referred to the case of Ireland as an argument in favour of retaining small areas of rating. Under the peculiar circumstances of Ireland he (the Earl of Devon) had always been an advocate of the adoption of small areas in that country. Looking to all the difficulties which the new Poor Law had to encounter there, small areas were probably advantageous. If the present proposition had been to substitute a system of union rating he was ready to admit that considerable weight would be due to the argument. It might be that, on the subject of union rating, he entertained views which some of their Lordships would deem impracticable, but at present it was sufficient to say that the Bill contained nothing of so formidable a character as the abolition of the law of settlement and the adoption of union rating, and that a sound and useful measure was not prejudiced by propositions which might raise arguable points. All that the Bill did was to diminish the time and increase the area which was to confer the privilege of irremovability in certain cases; and, with regard to the poor, the benefit would be very great, not merely in diminishing the hardship of removals but in promoting a free circulation of labour. The advantage to the ratepayers was still more obvious, because instead of poor parishes being, as now, often unduly burdened, the burden would be more equally and justly distributed and the amount of litigation would be greatly diminished. The effect of the Act of 1846 was greatly to reduce that most objectionable part of the Poor Law expenditure. In the years 1843, 1844, and 1845 the amount spent in litigation was £285,000, and in 1851, 1859, and, 1860 it was only £186,000. Other changes might have had some effect, but from his experience in that Department he was inclined to ascribe the greater portion of that remarkable diminution to the adoption of the principle of irremovability. By this Bill that principle would he extended, and by the diminution of time it would be easier to ascertain the correctness of any claims to settlement, and thus tend further to reduce the expense. The Bill came to them recommended by two Committees of the House of Commons, and by a majority of the Poor Law Inspectors, whose authority must be admitted, and as he believed great benefit would result to the whole community he should cordially vote for the second reading.


said, his consideration of the Bill had led him to a different conclusion from that of the noble Earl who had just sat down. It had been described as a measure which did not introduce union rating. That might be so, but he regarded it as a wedge which would lead hereafter to the introduction of that principle. Now, he had never objected to union rating in towns, to which this principle might perhaps be fairly applied. But this was not the case in rural districts—and, indeed, the very reverse was the fact there. At present there existed, he was happy to say, a number of parishes where the owners and occupiers of property took a great interest in their poor, and did their utmost to find them employment, and in which, when there existed a superabundance of labourers, the owners and occupiers subscribed to enable the surplus to emigrate, and thus reduced the poor rates in their respective parishes. In other parishes, however, where property was more divided, or where the owners lived perhaps at a distance, the poor were comparatively neglected, there was a want of employment, and the taxes were far heavier than in the well-administered parishes. The result of a union rating would be to punish the good administrators and to favour the neglectful. It had been said that it was the interest of owners to pull down the labourers' cottages; but such eases were extremely rare—the practice was seldom resorted to and was generally disapproved. He did not say that it was impossible to find one such case; but he believed that six cases of this kind could not be found in the kingdom. The general opinion of landowners was averse to this proceeding, and their aim everywhere was, he believed, to promote the well-being of their labourers—in truth, the general disposition of landowners was to improve the cottages on their estates, and to provide them with three sleeping rooms. No man had advocated the Bill of 1834 more than himself, from the time of its passing this Parliament he had never felt the shadow of a doubt of its great value, but he strongly objected to subsequent alterations which threw the burthen of maintaining the poor when sick on the parishes where they resided, generally adjoining those to which they belonged, and where they worked, in lieu of charging the parishes of their settlement, thus giving an uncalled for, and unfair advantage to ratepayers in parishes having few cottages—this law ought to be repealed. Feeling that the Bill would be prejudicial to the interests of the poor themselves, inasmuch as they would not be so completely employed as they now were, and believing, that it was the first advance towards a system of union rating, he should be compelled to oppose the second reading.


said, he felt extreme regret in having to oppose this Bill, because it contained a great deal which was likely to be of advantage. At the same time he could not at present consent to pass such a measure. Those by whom it was advocated had treated it as a little Bill; but it was really a very large one, and rendered a satisfactory settlement of other questions much more difficult than before. In his opinion the changes now proposed should be considered in connection with the law of settlement altogether. He admitted that the system of settlement in the form in which it now stood must be got rid of; but by introducing this Bill a difficulty was created in the way of complete legislation. The measure introduced important alterations as regarded the burdens upon property. An illustration had been given of three parishes where the rate was very disproportionate, and the change now proposed would, without showing any sufficient grounds, make a difference at once in the value of property there equivalent in one case to the withdrawal, and in the other to the imposition of a new income tax. That was a very great change, and unless their Lordships were convinced of its justice they ought not to make it. He granted that there was an inequality which ought to be removed; but this was too violent a settlement of the question. There was hardly a union in the kingdom in which the alteration here proposed would not make a difference of 1s. in the pound, some gaining to that amount, and others having to pay 1s. more than they did at present. Suppose two men had taken two farms in different parishes on a lease, assuming the respective burdens to be the same, it would be a serious thing in the one case to increase those burdens, while in the other they were possibly diminished to the same extent. Their Lordships ought to pause before they hastily made so great a change in the value and relative position of property. They were asked at this late period of the Session to take in hand a Bill of this importance, involving the principle of irremovability and union rating. Now, if they had sent down such a Bill to the other House late in July, would the House of Commons have consented to consider it? Their Lordships were asked to pass a Bill on imperfect information, that opened large questions which it did not close, and to pass it at a period of the Session when it was impossible to give the measure the consideration its importance deserved. He should be sorry to record his opinion against the principle of the Bill; and, for these reasons, he would entreat those who had charge of the Bill not to press it.


believed this was an important and beneficent measure, which, if passed in the present Session, would cause it to be referred to hereafter as one that had produced a great public advantage. The noble Lord (Lord Redesdale) in opposing the Bill, stood in a different position from most of the other Members of the House. He said he was prepared to deal with subjects that few of their Lordships and few Members of the House of Commons were prepared to deal with—the two great questions of the law of settlement and the extension of the area of rating. That might be a valid objection to proceeding with this Bill as far as the noble Lord was concerned; but, he believed their Lordships were not prepared to deal with either then, or, probably, in the next Session. Was that a valid reason why they should reject a Bill that did modify the evils of the law of settlement and paved the way for dealing with that question hereafter? The noble Lord asked if it was fair that this Bill should be sent up from the House of Commons at a period of the Session when their Lordships would have no opportunity of investigating the subject? That was a plausible argument, but there was still a fortnight or three weeks of the Session to run, and that would give ample time to consider the Bill in Committee. And any investigation of a subject of this magnitude must be made by their Lordships individually; they had great opportunities, as landowners, of considering the subject, and the advantage of reading the results of the inquiries instituted by the House of Commons, that had thrown a flood of light on the question for some years past. If any subject had been fully investigated this was one. He did not refer to the Committee appointed ten or twelve years ago, but the Committee of 1858, of which Mr. Sotheron Estcourt was Chairman. This Committee did not make any recommendations, but wished to continue the inquiry, and it was re-appointed in the following year, and again in 1860, with the present Duke of Richmond as Chairman. Thus it sat for three successive years, and its recommendations were almost precisely embodied in the present Bill. Every enactment of the Bill was included in the recommendations of the Committee, with one exception; that was as to the mode of making the assessment for the union charge. The Committee recommended that the population should be taken into account, and, by a strange and difficult process, added to the pounds sterling. This recommendation was, he thought, judiciously avoided in the Bill. With that exception all its recommendations were followed. The noble Lord who moved the rejection of this Bill (Viscount Lifford) spoke of this as the first attempt to upset the parochial system of England, and to introduce the principle of a union rating. This was not the first attempt to upset the parochial system, in any respect whatever. That was done by the Acts of 1846 and 1848. This Bill carried the principle no further, but only altered certain details. The noble Lord spoke of the "fine end of the wedge," but that was introduced by Mr. Charles Buller; when the Bill of 1848 made the assessment for the irremovable poor chargeable to the union, instead of the parishes, the principle was initiated of which the noble Lord complained. Nothing was more unjust than the common fund now that the relief of the irremovable poor was charged on the unions. When the Poor Law was enacted the principle was just and fair; then parishes that contributed a large amount to the rates for their own poor paid a proportionate sum to the union charge. There was a reason for it. The object of the common fund was to provide workhouse accommodation for the poor of the union and the officers, and the parishes that had the largest number of poor contributed the largest share; but the irremovable poor were not the poor of the parishes who contributed the largest sum for their own poor. But those parishes were taxed, while rich parishes were exempted from a charge that justly ought to be imposed on them. There were close parishes with irremovable poor that did not contribute a single farthing to the common fund. That was not just to the ratepayers, nor was it just to the poor. In the union of Radford there were three parishes, one rated at 11s. and the other two at 4s. each, though the rateable value of each parish was almost identical and the number of irremovable poor almost the same. According to union rating each would pay alike; under the parochial system one would pay three times as much as each of the other two. It could not be contended that this was a just principle now the, irremovable poor were made chargeable on the union fund. He believed the effect of the measure would be very beneficial, and tend to encourage landowners to increase the number of cottages on their property. There had really been a considerable increase since the Acts of 1846 and 1848. Although he felt that the subject was far from exhausted, he would refrain from trespassing on their Lordships' time by discussing the various points that might be raised, particularly as he knew that full opportunity for discussing these matters would be found in Committee. If their Lordships did divide ho hoped there would be such a majority in favour of the second reading as would indicate the concurrence of that House with the opinion, not only of the House of Commons, but also of the boards of guardians who had been applied to on the subject, and who had responded in favour of the Bill by a majority of nine to one.


thought that, considering the enormous magnitude of the question, and the importance of the points involved in its discussion, it was rather hard of the Government to come to that House and ask their Lordships to road such a Bill a second time on the 23rd of July. It was really impossible to understand and read all the Bills brought up to their Lordships' House at this late period of the Session. Since the 15th instant no less than ten Bills had been brought into their Lordships' House, of which five were brought up from the House of Commons only on the previous evening. He understood that there were absolutely Bills in Government offices which had not yet been laid on the table of the other House of Parliament. He was sorry that his noble Friend the Chairman of Committees had not moved the Resolution which he had been accustomed to move in previous Sessions. He thought that Resolution was a very useful stimulus. Although he was not prepared to give his determined opposition to the provisions of the Bill, he did not think their Lordships should be called upon to deal with a question of such magnitude and importance at so advanced a period of the Session, and he hoped the Government would not persevere with the Bill.

On Question, That ("now") stand part of the Motion? Their Lordships divided: Contents, 40; Not-Contents, 31; Majority, 9.

Westbury, L. (L. Chancellor.) Carlisle, Bp.
London, Bp.
Newcastle, D. Boyle, L. (E.Cork and Orrery.)
Somerset, D. Dartrey, L. (L. Cremorne.)
Ailesbury, M. Denman, L.
De Tabley, L.
Airlie, E. Elgin, L. (E. Elgin and Kincardine.)
Caithness, E.
Chichester, E. Foley, L. [Teller.]
Clarendon, E. Fortescue, L. (V. Ebrington.)
De Grey, E.
Devon, E. Harris, L.
Granville, E. Heytesbury, L.
Harrowby, E. Llanover, L.
Minto, E. Lyveden, L.
Nelson, E. Overstone, L.
Saint Germans, E. Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.) [Teller.]
Shaftesbury, E.
Spencer, E. Portman, L.
Rivers, L.
Eversley, V. Somerhill, L.(M. Clanricarde.)
Stratford de Redcliffe, V. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Sydney, V. Wodehouse, L.
Cleveland, D. Colchester, L.
Colville of Culross, L.
Bath, M. Delamere, L.
Salisbury, M. Dunsandle and Clanconal, L.
Bathurst, E. Egerton, L.
Beauchamp, E. Kingsdown, L.
Carnarvon, E. Lovel and Holland, L.
Derby, E. (E. Egmont.)
Malmesbury, E. Polwarth, L.
Powis, E. Raglan, L.
Shrewsbury, E. Redesdale, L. [Teller.]
Stradbroke, E. Saltoun, L.
Silchester, L. (E. Longford.)
Dungannon, V. [Teller.]
Lifford, V. Tredegar, L.
Melville, V. Tyrone, L. [M. Waterford.)
Chelmsford, L. Wynford, L.
Churston, L.

Resolved in the Affirmative; Bill read 2a accordingly; and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday next.