HL Deb 21 June 1875 vol 225 cc229-42

said: I do not intend to trouble your Lordships with an elaborate speech, but I seek rather to make as short and clear a statement of facts as is possible. The subject of the Law of Settlement and Removal of the Poor is a difficult and complicated one to deal with briefly, and I must ask your Lordships' indulgence for a short time. I must remind the House that I brought in a Bill last year to do away with removal: it was the general opinion of the House that it should not then be read a second time, and I, accordingly, withdrew it. I, as it were, undertook to ascertain the feeling of the country on the subject during the Recess: this I have endeavoured to do by sending a private circular to various Boards of Guardians, selected roughly, so as to test the opinion of the country generally, and I will give your Lord-ships the result of this inquiry presently. I have, however, come to the conclusion that more information is required, so I am content with the course I propose to pursue at present. To make my argument fairly complete, I must touch, in a few words only, on one or two points in the history of the Law of Settlement and Removal. It is not necessary for me to enter into details, for your Lordships are fully aware of the provisions of the law as they at present exist. The Law of Settlement, or domicile, was established first in the Danish and Anglo-Saxon times, as a mutually protective measure chiefly; and to promote social order and good government, each man was bound to belong to a community, or to enter himself in some burn, but he could always change his place of residence with the greatest ease. This is a point I wish to call your Lordships' attention to particularly—that every man was free to move from one place to another. Passing swiftly over the law of Edward III. against free labour, and those of Richard IL, Henry VIL, and Elizabeth, chiefly directed against rogues and vagabonds, that is to say, vagrancy; we come to the law of Charles II. which was the origin of the Law of Removal—the greatest infringement, perhaps, of the rights of Englishmen since the Conquest. This law unsettled the poor, and made almost everyone liable to removal. The law continued in this state till 1795, in George III. 's reign, when no one was removable unless actually chargeable to the rates. I now come to the present law, under which a period of irremovability has been established; first of five years, then of three years, and now of one year, the sole remnant of the harsh and cruel law of Charles II. To illustrate the working of the present law, I will take a few cases. First, one or two hypothetical cases. Suppose a pauper to become chargeable to the rates somewhere in the North of England, his settlement is derived from his grandfather, the grandfather's settlement is in Cornwall. Soon after gaining a settlement there the grandfather goes to a Lancashire Union, there the father is born; the father goes to a Union in Yorkshire when he is old enough to take care of himself, and the pauper is born there. The pauper, when he, in turn, is old enough, goes to Cumberland, and when he becomes chargeable, if he has no acquired settlement of his own, he is removable to Cornwall. He has never been there himself, nor has his father ever been in Cornwall, but he may become permanently chargeable, from the fact that no one knows him, and that the work he has been accustomed to is entirely different; so he has no refuge but the rates. Perhaps some noble Lords may say this is an extreme case, but it is one which may, and, I believe, does happen under the existing law. It is one of no little hardship, and it is one I confidently affirm, is more than possible, and may occur at any time under the law as it stands. The hardest cases of all, however, are those which affect illegitimate children, removable when they arrive at the age of 16 to the place of their birth. A child might never have been, except in its earliest infancy, in the place of its birth—say, Leeds; but from some unforeseen cause or another—permanent disability, perhaps—it is removed from its mother, its proper guardian, and left to the care of strangers. What can be more impolitic? What can tend more to pauperize the child? It is removed from its friends, and what refuge can it have but the workhouse, or a constant chargeability to the rates? This is a very hard case, and one of frequent occurrence. These two cases are enough to show the complication of the law and its hardship, but they may be supplemented by numberless real cases. Not to weary your Lordships with endless details, I will proceed to give one or two real cases which have occurred within a short period. A woman of excellent character was deserted by her husband, she was removed from the West Derby Union to Preston: 3. a-week would have enabled her to remain with her aged mother; neither she or her husband had ever been to Preston. The result was, that the ratepayers of Preston, taking it in the ratepayers' point of view, had to maintain her and her children at a cost of £2 a-week, whereas a cost of 3s, a-week to the removing Union would have avoided all hardship and some unnecessary expense. Again, to take a case of very great importance, and one of great hardship. It is of particular importance from the fact that it led to a distinct opinion being given by three Judges on the present state of the law. It is one of a break of residence. The question raised was the validity of an order for the removal of a pauper from the parish of Birmingham to the Worcester Union. It appeared that the pauper, named Hardman, a tailor, had lived and supported himself for 45 years in the parish of Birmingham, prior to the 30th of May, 1872, when he was received into the Birmingham Workhouse. In November, a tailor, named Pose, who lived in A West Smethwick, out of Birmingham, hired the pauper. The pauper went and resided in West Smethwick, and worked for Pose for 3s. a-week, with board and lodging. He resided there for weeks, and then returned to Birmingham, when he again became chargeable to the rates. Pose told the pauper, when he hired him, that he could stay as long as he liked if they agreed. The question was, whether the residence of the pauper for 10 weeks at Smethwick operated as a break of residence, preventing a continuous residence for the period of one year, so as to confer the status of irremovability. In giving judgment, the Lord Chief Justice said— I wish very much we could hold that the pauper was irremovable, for I think it is a most cruel thing, if not an abuse of the power of the parochial officer, to send a man away, who has resided 45 years in the same place, to a place where he had a legal settlement, but not a friend or acquaintance in the world to whom he could turn for a word of comfort. It is a very hard thing, and if I could only find that this man was irremovable from Birmingham, I should certainly keep him there. Mr. Justice Blackburn said— I am also extremely sorry to be obliged to come to the conclusion that the pauper is not irremovable. Here, a man having been resident in Birmingham for 45 years, came into the workhouse there, and because he, like an honest man, went out of the workhouse to endeavour to get work, and happened to step across the boundary of the parish, he is sent away from the place from which he has not been absent for 45 years. The cruelty is obvious, and the hardship very great. Mr. Justice Lush said— I share in the regret expressed by my Lord and my brother Blackburn, in having to decide that this man must he removed; but cases of hardship do arise, and will arise however the Act of Parliament, may be framed. There are extreme cases not contemplated by the framers of the Act. Such, then, my Lords, is the law, and such the opinion of the Judges upon it. But to turn to the opinion of the outside public on this question. An important conference which was held in London under the presidency of the noble Earl opposite (Earl Fortescue) at the end of last year, pronounced in favour of the abolition of these laws, and so did a conference held at Malvern in May last. These meetings were attended by a large number of those who are most experienced in the administration of the Poor Laws, and their opinion is most valuable. By the kindness of friends, and from reliable information from various quarters, I have been able to ascertain the general feeling of the country. In one Poor Law district, no clerk to a Union—and the clerks to Unions are as capable as any other class of forming a sound opinion, if not [more so—is in favour of the retention of these laws, and six only out of 39 Unions are in favour of retaining the law as it stands. This seems to be an example of the general opinion—even Sheffield and Salford are of the same opinion, and I believe the large towns, as a whole, will eventually agree with me that these laws should be abolished. I could quote many other instances from other districts which support the same view of the subject. But let me turn to the direct information I have received. I have consulted various Boards of Guardians, as I have already informed your Lordships, by a circular, and the result is as follows:—Out of 51 replies I have received, 38 are in favour of the abolition of the Law of Removal, and so of the Law of Settlement of the Poor; six are against it, and seven are doubtful. I will not trouble your Lordships with details, but, as a sample of the replies I have received, I will quote one or two. A letter from Birmingham says—" We find 110 persons were transferred from our relief lists to their own settlements, as against 26 only charged to us." This letter goes on to advocate non-resident relief. This pauperizing document is at any of your Lordships' disposal. Then, again, Liverpool is alarmed. Why, no one can tell, for I left Ireland out of my Bill last year to a great extent, if not entirely, to avoid any possible hardship which might arise in seaport towns. Then, as a sample of opposing unions, I may quote a letter from Reigate. Amongst other things it says—"During the last year 67 persons have been removed to their various places of settlement (effecting thereby a saving of nearly £1,000 per annum) from the parish of Reigate alone." Such are the reasons given against an abrogation of these laws, and I venture to say they are hardly worthy of the great communities who give them. Then there are the doubtful class; those who advocate a national rate; those who say there is not sufficient workhouse accommodation, as Rochdale, and so on. But let me pass to the class who are favourable to my proposition. I will not take any country Unions. The replies from that quarter are able and complete, but I will take my instances from the towns, where the greatest opposition generally lies, and not from the country, where I have every reason to be grateful for support. The reply I have received to my circular from Manchester states— That this Board having been requested to express its views upon the present bearing of the Law of Settlement and Removal, and as to how far it might be expedient, or otherwise, to abolish entirely or further restrict the liability of paupers to removal, hereby records its opinion, that, though this township must incur a considerable additional expenditure by the change, this Board, feeling bound to regard the general interests of the country at large, considers that the time has arrived for the entire repeal of the law; as being inconsistent with the spirit of the age, and in many cases inflicting much needless hardship on individuals, while conferring no counter-balancing benefit on the community. The Overseers of the Poor at Manchester agree in this opinion. Then the St. Pancras Board of Guardians tell me in their reply that they instruct the clerk of the Board to write to the Local Government Board—"To direct their attention to the hardship inflicted on the poor by the operation of the existing Law of Settlement, with a view to the same being abolished." So I might go on with Preston and other large towns and unions. Many Unions offered to memorialize Government—the Wortley Union, for instance—or to do anything in their power to support the view I take of this question. I have endeavoured to put a few test eases shortly before your Lordships; of hardships to the poor, of the effect of the law upon Unions, and to show the general feeling of the country. Now, my Lords, to take one or two of the objections to my proposal. They are chiefly, if not entirely, from the large towns, and they are based, I am sorry to say, upon more or less selfish motives, and not upon the broad policy of the general good of the country. The large towns often benefit by the labour of men reared in the country districts. Why are they not to support them in their old age, even if there are exceptional cases where it would be a hardship to do so? I have endeavoured to ascertain the proportion of the population which probably migrate to towns from the rural districts. Of course, like most returns, the test may be said to be slight; particularly as there is no actual test of the proportion of the rural population which go to the large towns. I have taken the population of 1861 and that of 1871 as a basis. I have taken the real increase of population, and I have compared the real increase with what the natural increase of population should have been taking the increase of births over deaths. I have taken two counties and two towns—two agricultural counties, as purely agricultural as can well be found, and two large towns, as good instances as can be found of manufacturing, or rather purely town communities. In Lincolnshire the population in 1861 was 404,138; in 1871, 428,075. The natural increase should have been 56,060, but the actual increase was only 23,937—a deficiency of 32,123. In Suffolk the population in 1861 was 335,409; in 1871, 347,210. The natural increase should have been 41,250, but the actual increase was only 11,801, leaving a deficiency of 29,449. In London, the population in 1861 was 2,803,989, and in 1871, 3,254,260. The natural increase should have been 321,870, but the actual increase was 450,271, leaving a surplus of 128,401. In Leeds, the population in 1861 was 134,006; in 1871, 162,421. The natural increase should have been 18,580, but the actual increase was 28,415, or a surplus of 9,835. What does this mean? That a considerable portion of the population reared in the country districts, and chargeable there up to a certain time of life, when they become really useful for the first time, go somewhere else, and I think it may be fairly urged that some of these, at all events, go to the large towns. If so, what is the hardship to the towns who take them when they are of use, to bear the burden of supporting them when they become old and worn out in their service—in increasing their wealth and prosperity? I should be inclined to say the hardships would be on the other side. Again, an objection to my proposal is, the prospect of an inundation of paupers in large towns in times of distress. The argument I have just used applies here again; but, to use another, what can end more to revive individual interest amongst Poor Law Guardians, or to establish a just and uniform system in the administration of the Poor Laws, than the total abolition of the Law of Settlement and Removal? Guardians have no right to make the workhouse a place of pleasure, as it is now in many places, and one of the great difficulties preventing a proper administration of the Poor Law is the difference there is in the mode of carrying it out. Mr. George Coode, in his able Report, says— That such an administration of the Poor Law in the towns, as would make relief there as little eligible as it is considered in the parish of the poor man's settlement, would produce the same effect as the prospect of removal, with a benefit to the town. This disposes, too, of the argument that these laws cannot be dispensed with, as they are a sure test of real destitution. There are plenty of tests and safeguards if the law is only properly administered. When you examine the matter closely there is but little sound argument which can be used in the point of view taken by the towns. When the Union Chargeability Act was passed, it conferred a great benefit upon towns at the expense of rural districts, by shifting the burdens in many cases. In the discussions on this measure the towns—very properly I think—would not for a moment listen to the plea of individual interest on the part of rural districts, as it was against the policy of the Poor Laws. How can they turn round now and use a contrary argument? It is said that the abolition of this Law of Settlement and Removal will lead to an increase of vagrancy. The law was all very well in times gone by as a protection against vagrancy, but it must be remembered that the vagrant class move about freely from place to place now. It really is a matter of police. Wherever the police have been allowed to deal with this class, they have dealt with them successfully. Admiral M'Hardy, the excellent Chief Constable for Essex, reduced the number of vagrants in 10 Unions in Essex from 24,882 to 2,977—a decrease of 21,903 in a single half-year—in 1849. It may be said by this means you only send these vagrants from one county to another; but if there were a more uniform system in the management of the police this would never occur. If the police could deal with vagrancy in 1849, surely they can do so now. One of the difficulties which presented itself on bringing in the Bill last year was the fact that the dispensing of various charities throughout the country depended on the settlement of the recipients. Settlement, how-ever, was not included in the Bill of last year, but when I look carefully into this part of the question, it really is not one of much importance, for, as a matter of fact, under the present efficient management and schemes of the Charity Commission, the settlement of poor persons is seldom, if ever, inquired into. I am a trustee of various charities, and I never heard of such an inquiry being made. I have now, my Lords, disposed of some, if not most, of the objections to my proposal. Let me proceed to state shortly the advantages which I believe would arise from its adoption. It would re-establish, as in the olden times, the free migration of labour first restricted in the time of Charles II.; it would improve the administration of the Poor Law generally, as I have already pointed out, and restore individual interest, and it would do away with the iniquitous practice of non-resident relief, which can hardly be done away with in any other way. What say the Poor Law Commission, in their ninth Report as to non-resident relief? and I need say no more, I think, to condemn this practice completely— It is needless to condemn a system which, by common consent of all experienced persons, is vicious in principle, in practice, and at best can he considered as barely tolerated by law. It would avoid many hardships to the poor: it would do good to the Unions generally, for the benefit received by them would more than counter-balance any injustice which may arise in exceptional cases: it would once more reduce legal expenses, as is shown by the fact that from the time of the establishment of a status of irremovability in 1845 to 1871 the pauperism had increased from 5,039,703 in 1845, to 7,886,724 in 1871, while the law costs had diminished from £95,397 to £18,079; it would do away with this wretched remnant of an unnecessary law, which has been mitigated from time to time. In 1795, 8,000,000 of the people of England were set free by the alteration of this law, in a time of disorder and distress, without difficulty or danger. Why should it be dangerous now, in a time of prosperity and good order, to get rid of this remnant of a law which was never intended for the purpose it is at present put to? If any alteration of the law were likely to be of service, or to settle the question, I, for one, should say by all means amend it; but such a course would do little or no real good. As an instance, your Lordships will see non-resident relief could not be done away with. The operation of the law is so limited now, except in creating hardships and difficulties, that I say at once, do away with the Law of Settlement and Removal of the Poor. The Select Committee of the House of Commons, which sat in 1847, recommended such a course. It must do good, it cannot do harm: it will eradicate a great deal of useless law from the Statute Book, and it will be a boon to the poorer classes, which, I think, can hardly be estimated. Now, my Lords, I have not referred to the question of pauper lunatics. It is one of very little comparative difficulty, particularly now when the Government give largely towards their maintenance; and it is really a question of misfortune, rather than one of pauperism—so thought the Committee of 1847. Of Scotland and Ireland, too, I have said nothing. Their cases are different from that of England and Wales in many respects. No doubt, hardships do exist in Ireland, but I have not yet made up my mind that this law can be safely, or properly abolished in these countries. At all events, this part of the question requires further consideration. Scotland and Ireland are included in the Returns I move for, merely because it is a continuation of a Return made in 1868. The fact that no Return has been made since 1868 shows that further information is required. The most important part, perhaps, of the Return is that relating to removals by consent. Years ago there was often a good deal of trouble, particularly at the Local Government Board, as to removals, but this bas diminished. Perhaps this is partly from the fact that a good many removals are made by consent. My Lords, I have spoken strongly on this subject, but I do not think more strongly than the subject deserves. I hope when fresh information is obtained that the Government will take up the question. It is rather too large a one for a private Member of your Lordships' House to deal with satisfactorily. Under these circumstances, I think those who agree with me, both inside and outside this House, will see I am wiser to put off immediate action, whatever my own opinion may be, and I hope, by doing so, I may really press forward the object I have in view more effectually. I have attempted to place this question before your Lordships, but it is difficult to do so in a single speech. I have endeavoured to divest my remarks from all semblance of sentiment. I have only one object in view—to be of use in the matter; to abolish a useless law; to free the poor man as much as possible, and to extend a sound public policy with respect to the Poor Laws. I only hope others more able to deal satisfactorily with the subject will take it up and deal promptly with it. I beg to move for the following Returns:— Return showing the number of orders of removal from unions and parishes signed by justices and executed in England and Wales, during the years 1869 to 1875, inclusive, ending the 25th day of March 1875; stating the number of persons removed, the nature of alleged settlement, and the amount of expenses incurred in the removal, including the cost of obtaining the orders, serving the same, and travelling expanses of the paupers removed, but not the cost of relief before removal; distinguishing the orders so executed from or to parishes not in union and between different unions; stating also the number of orders of removal of Scotch and Irish paupers and paupers belonging to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man during the same period (in continuation of Parliamentary Paper No. 477. of Session 1868): Like Return in respect of paupers removed from one union to another by consent and without order."—(Lord Hartismere.)


said, he was not going to raise an objection altogether to the Returns moved for by his noble Friend; but he would propose that those Returns should be for one year instead of for five years. Returns for the latter period would involve a serious amount of preparation. These Papers related to one year, and therefore for the purposes of comparison it would be better if the Returns now to be ordered were also to be made for one year. His noble Friend (Lord Henniker) had said that he did not intend to go into the whole question of Poor Law Removal; but—though he did not find fault with him for it—he thought he bad travelled over a very large history and over the whole ground of Settlement and Removal. There were few subjects of greater importance; and it was connected with the subject which was so fully discussed the other evening on the Motion of his noble Friend (Lord Lyttelton)—namely, the subject of out-door relief. As he understood his noble Friend, he proposed to get rid of the law of Settlement altogether, and to establish a state of things in this country which did not exist in any other. Certainly, in France and in Belgium every one was supposed to have a domicile in some locality; and he was not disposed to think that it would be advisable to do away with the Law of Settlement in this country. His noble Friend admitted that the restrictions had been made much less stringent. First, there was the condition of "residence;" afterwards, there was "three years' residence;" but the period had subsequently been reduced to one year, at which it at present stood; and there was also the chargeability to the whole Union. He would not go into figures, but he would make a remark or two on some of the illustrations of hardship cited by his noble Friend—because he did not think that a sound argument as to what should be the general law could be based on cases which seldom occurred. The case of the labourer whose grandfather was born in Northumberland, whose father was born in Cornwall, and who himself was born in Lancashire, was not likely to occur very often; but if that labourer had resided for one year in one place he would have acquired a settlement there. The tailor's was no doubt a bard case, but hard cases would occur from time to time, under any possible system. He did not think any great hardship had been shown in the case of the daughter of the widow who lived at West Derby. If the woman had not removed to Preston, she would have had a settlement in "West Derby. His noble Friend said that the general feeling of the country-was in favour of the abolition of the Law of Settlement. With all respect to his noble Friend, he did not think that was the case. His noble Friend said that the majority of the Chairmen of 49 Unions thought that the Law of Settlement ought to be abolished; but he seemed to forget that the number of Unions in this country was 650, and therefore to claim for his majority that they expressed the opinion of England on the subject was straining the argument too far. His noble Friend admitted that it would not be safe to include Ireland or Scotland in the provisions of the Bill; and with that view he (the Duke of Richmond) concurred; but when his noble Friend made that admission there was an end of his case. He then spoke of Liverpool; but when it was borne in mind how great was the number of Irishmen who came over to this country and would find themselves charged on the rates of Liverpool it was, he thought, reasonable that the ratepayers of that town should not be called upon to support Irish or Scotch or the people of any other country who happened to arrive there in large numbers. The same objection and the same answer would apply to other parts of the country—for instance, to the hop-picking districts, to which large numbers of persons rushed during the hop-picking season. As to the vagrant case, he agreed with his noble Friend in the opinion that it was one of great difficulty, even though as he said, it might fairly be made a question of police. His noble Friend appeared to suppose it to be possible that if his view were acted upon it would lead to a more uniform system of police; but he (the Duke of Richmond) did not know what a uniform system of police meant, unless it was one for the establishment of a police throughout the whole country under one central authority, and he did not imagine the public were prepared for such centralization as that would imply. He ventured to differ, he might add, from the noble Lord as to the power of doing away altogether with the Law of Settlement, for the time, he felt certain, had had not yet arrived for dealing with that question. He did not object to a Return showing these Orders of Removal from the 25th day of March, 1874 to the 25th day of March, 1875.


thought that the Law of Settlement and Removal was entirely indefensible, and ought to be abolished In these days, when the facilities of locomotion were so great, it was desirable to give the labourer the power of working where he thought best, with as little restriction as possible, and if, unfortunately, he should become destitute, he must be relieved on the spot. No doubt this presupposed, if it was to work satisfactorily, two principles: the one, a stringent administration of the general law; the other, a wide extension of the area of incidence of local taxation. But both these he considered good in themselves, and therefore it strengthened the argument. He feared that his noble Friend (Lord Henniker) would get nothing more from his Motion at present than a discussion of the subject; but these repeated discussions would, no doubt, gradually lead the minds of the people in the right direction, and ultimately he hoped there would be an abolition of those laws.

Motion amended accordingly, and agreed to.