AMENDMENT OF THE POOR LAWS (ENGLAND).
Lord Althorp moved the Order of the Day for the second reading of the Poor-laws Amendment Bill.
Colonel Evans complained, that the proposed measure would effect a total alteration in the Constitution. He had not attempted to wade through the whole of the Reports on the subject, but he had read so much of them as referred to the abuses which were stated to exist, and the modes of redress proposed. The first of these evils was the system of out-of-door relief, and it was said to be principally produced by magisterial interference. He had no objection to any measure which might be resorted to for the purpose of counteracting these evils, but in his opinion they were such as might have long since been rectified by the landed proprietors and the magistracy; and by means less objectionable than those now proposed. The next defects of the present system were said to spring from the Laws of Settlement and Bastardy, and the irresponsibility of Select Vestries? He found in the reports no other causes assigned for the extent of the demoralization and misery which existed. He would ask, whether these might not be referred, at least in some degree, to other causes, whether they might not partly arise from the unfair manner in which the poor were 806 treated as regarded taxation on the articles of general consumption? whether the monopoly created by the Corn-law had not a considerable share in producing these results? and whether some portion of the evil might not be attributed to the neglect of the moral education of the poor, on the part of the upper classes. He was surprised to find no allusion to these points in the voluminous reports submitted to the House. On the part, of his constituents he could state, that they were all Whig, Tory, and Radical—opposed to the measure. He had also been present at two or three public meetings, numerously attended, at which the opinion was unanimous against the Bill, but more particularly against that part of it which proposed a Central Board. This proposition was most objectionable, and indeed he doubted whether it was in the power of that House to give to the Central Board such authority as the Bill proposed to vest in them—an authority which empowered them to repeal all the existing laws on this subject—an irresponsible power for the abuse of which they were unimpeachable before any of the ordinary tribunals of the land. Not only did the House by this measure propose to delegate to three Commissioners its own power, but the power and authority of the three estates of the realm. These commissioners were authorised not only to legislate, but also to levy taxes; and who composed the Commission, which recommended investing another commission with such extraordinary powers?—Two Bishops, two political economists, and two barristers. And was such authority as this sufficient, for the correction of the gross abuses which were stated to exist? With regard to what was proposed in relation to out-of-door relief, he must object to the shortness of the time allowed for putting an end to it. It was proposed that it should cease in 1835. ["No, no."] Well, it was proposed that it should cease in a very short time. He protested against the too sudden cessation of out-door relief, as he was certain it would lead to a revolution in the country. The proposed plan was subversive of the very principles of the Constitution. It was a measure which he did not expect to be brought forward by the present Government, who, for the sake of the patronage it conferred, proposed by this Bill to create a new power in the State. For these reasons he would move the follow- 807 ing Resolution as an Amendment on the Motion of the noble Lord:—”That the existing abuses in the administration of the Poor-laws require a strong and compulsory legislative enactment for their correction; but that any measure, with that ostensible view, which shall in its tendency be utterly subversive of the representative principle of local government, which shall tend to withdraw all power from rate-payers over the expenditure of their own funds, or which shall materially increase the influence and power of the Crown, and of the Administration for the time being, ought not, in the opinion of this House to be adopted, unless some extreme and paramount necessity be made out, which cannot be surmounted by any means less objectionable, and less opposed to the free spirit of the ancient constitution of these realms.”
Lord Althorpsaid, he should have no objection to discuss the topics included in the Resolution of the hon. and gallant Colonel the member for Westminster, when the proper time for such discussions came; but there was one point in the Motion upon which he would content himself with a single observation. The Resolution spoke of the increased influence which would be added to the Crown and Administration for the time being. He (Lord Althorp) would only ask whether it was possible that his Majesty’s Ministers would propose the measure now before the House with a view to any patronage which it might be the means of conferring on them? If there were any who thought so, he could only say, that they had a very strange notion indeed of the policy or sense of the Ministry.
Amendment withdrawn, and the question put that the Bill be now read a second time.
Sir Samuel Whalleyfelt considerable pain in addressing the House, because he knew, that this was a dry question to enter upon, and therefore he would occupy as short a time as possible in offering a few remarks. He felt sincerely the evil which was likely to be inflicted upon the country by this Bill; for, looking to the machinery of the measure, he thought that, instead of correcting the evils of which the community complained, it would increase them. It would be prejudicial to property, and demoralizing to the labouring classes. With respect to the principle on which the Poor-laws were founded, he 808 had always held, that they were based on injustice, and that there was here a golden opportunity for the Government to remove the evil. Unless they did this the Poor-laws would continue a national curse instead of a national blessing. This measure went to violate the very principle on which a just Government was founded—namely, that every man had a right to the produce of his own industry. It had ever been held, that every man had a right to be supported thus far, that if he was not able to work or to get work, he must then be supported by the industry of others; but if they abused this principle, they only opened the door to profligacy, and he begged the House not to be instrumental in forcing a plan which must only tend to increase the evils which now existed. The hon. Gentleman then made some observations on the law of settlement to which he (Sir Samuel Whalley) objected, but thought the system might be modified, as he wished that every remnant of the feudal system should be swept away. On this ground alone, however, he should not feel himself at liberty to divide the House upon the second reading of the Bill. But another alteration to which he must refer was that respecting bastardy. He thought the Bill went to inflict a curse upon the people of the country, while he readily acknowledged it was a difficult and a delicate subject to provide for. In these instances criminality now attached to both sexes; but the new laws were to exonerate the male sex and to allow all the misery to be thrown on the unfortunate female who might be the mother of an illegitimate offspring; she had all the disgrace to encounter, nor had she this only to bear, she had also the pains of parturition to suffer. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen might laugh, but he would not let false notions of delicacy prevent him from offering his opinion. This Bill went to offer a premium for immorality, and to encourage the crime of infanticide. With respect to the allowance system he agreed with the suggestion of the Government that it should cease, and the objection which he entertained to this part of the measure was the limited period at which it was determined it should stop. He thought the period of twelve months too short to carry this alteration into effect; and he had indeed so many objections to other parts of the Bill, that he felt he could not conscien- 809 tiously allow it to go to a second reading. He believed that the exercise of the powers given to the Central Board would be destructive of property, and subversive of constitutional liberty. He was, therefore, anxious to divide the House upon the measure, that their constituents might thereby know with whom the fault of supporting it rested. It had, on former occasions, been held by the noble Lord, that all who paid taxes had a right to have a control over the administration of their money; but they were about to reverse the principle, and to say that the rate-payers were the last persons to be trusted with the administration of the taxes raised and paid by them. Look to the powers given to the Commissioners; was it to be supposed, that they were to say how much flannel was required for an old woman? Surely the quantity must depend on the length and breadth of the old woman. Leave, then, to the rate-payers the management of their own funds, leave with them the complete control, and he believed, that all the evils would disappear, arising as they did, from the erroneous principle upon which the Poor-laws were founded. At present, the mischiefs of the Poor-laws arose from the want of a sufficient control on the part of the rate-payers over their funds. Vestries were now self-elected, open, and representative. With regard to the first-named, he presumed, that no man would, in these days, advocate such a system; the second might, perhaps, be considered in many cases, as tending to promote or induce clamorous assemblies; but, in the latter case, that of a representative vestry; what was the fact? A man elected by his brother parishioners always felt, that he had an honour conferred upon him, and he always endeavoured to act up to the confidence which was placed in him; and he found, that wherever this latter mode of appointing vestries prevailed, the evils of the Poor-laws did not exist. In speaking of representative vestries, he trusted, the House would excuse him, if he spoke of the parish to which he belonged, that of St. Marylebone—a little kingdom—ay, a little kingdom. He used that expression advisedly, because it was almost equal to Hanover in many respects—it boasted of a larger revenue than Hanover. And before the system of representative vestry was established in that parish, the expenditure was 180,000l. 810 annually; whereas it was now reduced to 50,000l., and a corresponding reduction had taken place in every case where this system had been enforced; and yet, these Commissioners were either ignorant of the matter, or suppressed the fact, in the Report laid before the House. The three Commissioners had the power to say, that the Acts of the three Estates of the realm should be null, for they had the power to overthrow the Act by which the majority of rate-payers had the right of decision. In the 35th section of the Bill proposed to be read a second time, a power was given to repeal Acts of Parliament by the lump. Now, with all the respect which he entertained for the House, he doubted whether it had the right to grant such powers. He doubted whether, in the event of a piece of paper, like that which he held in his hand, being laid before a Judge, the Judges would say the Commissioners could repeal Statutes under its authority. The conviction in his mind was, that they would say the Commissioners could not, and that conviction would be his only solace if such a nefarious Act, as that now proposed, should be ever passed. The Commissioners were called upon to assign no reason beyond their good will and pleasure. He would advise them to seal such a document with a triple crown, as emblematic of their trinitarian character; and if there should be in the House any embryo Commissioners present, he would advise them to adopt as their motto, “Sic volo, sic jubeo, stet pro ratione voluntas.” Now there was no principle so erroneous as that of a plurality of votes; because, instead of reducing expenditure, it had a contrary effect. A poor man who paid his 5s. only, had, perhaps, a greater interest in the reduction of parochial expenditure than the rich man who paid his 5l. The power to be vested in the Commissioners would allow them to put their hands into the pockets of the rate-payers, so that they might order the enlargement of workhouses to the extent of one-tenth—they might order the expenditure of 800,000l. They also had the power to call before them all persons connected in any way with the Poor-laws; and if these persons should not answer to their satisfaction, they had the power of committing them to any of his Majesty’s gaols. But the Commissioners were protected by all sorts of indemnity. They even had the power to disobey the laws, 811 and to punish the infringement of the laws which they themselves made. He would say, that the power thus given to these Bashaws—to these three-tailed Bashaws, was subversive of all constitutional principle. One of the evils which were complained of, in respect to the Poor-laws, was, the interference of the Magistrates. The hon. Gentleman here referred to the case of a parish (as we understood, of Cranbourne), in which there had been a Magistrate who was continually interfering in matters relating to the management of the poor, by which great inconvenience arose. This gentleman died, and was succeeded by another gentleman, who followed a very different course; he introduced a new system, and the evil was abated; and yet they were going, under the provisions of this Bill, to renew the same system of petty interference. The Commissioners had complained, not of the Magistrates themselves, but of the jurisdiction vested in them,—an objection which would apply to all other tribunals endowed with the same powers. One thing which was complained of was, the scale system,—and yet these Commissioners were to regulate the quantity of food for each pauper. The next thing aimed at by this Bill was, the simplification of accounts. Now, the discretionary powers given to these Commissioners were, he found, so numerous, that he found the words, “as they shall think proper,” occur thirty-six times in the course of the Report. He doubted, too, the expediency of calling or collecting together a large body of paupers to be paid. He believed, that looking to this measure generally, there were many suggestions of the Commissioners which were practicable, and which would do away with certain evils. But, he would state his deliberate opinion, that if this Bill were allowed to go over to another Session, more good would follow, than by hurrying it on at the present moment. He would give to the Secretary of State the power to send round a circular to every parish, relating to the allowance system, accounts, &c., requiring information; and he was sure, that in this case, much abuse would be prevented. He thought, that this Bill unfortunately went to affirm more strongly than ever the feeling of the poor that they had an inherent right to the poor-rates. He did not know, indeed, why they had not the decency to refrain from giving a verdict before they had the evidence laid 812 before them, because the country did not as yet understand the Bill. Meetings had been held in almost all the metropolitan parishes against the measure, and they had that day received a petition from the Corporation of London, which had been agreed to by the Common Council, with only two dissentient voices. He believed, that one of the effects of this measure would be, that men of character would abstain from filling parochial offices, while those who undertook them must consent to be the degraded tools of the Commissioners. He implored the House to put off this question till next Session, and again repeated his belief, that the Report which had been made would work good. Having returned thanks to the House for the attention which they had paid to his remarks, the hon. Gentleman moved, that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.
Mr. Groteaddressed the House as follows: I rise, Sir, to express my hope that the House will read this Bill a second time, and suffer it to go into Committee. Approving as I do, of almost all its main ends—approving as I do also, to a great degree, and for the most part, of the new machinery by which those ends are proposed to be accomplished, and, convinced, as I am fully, that some new machinery is absolutely and indispensably requisite, I hope the House will not refuse to examine this Bill in Committee. This is a subject on which I feel a strong and anxious interest, and had I been left to my own unaided judgment and knowledge of the case, I should still have entertained a strong persuasion that some measure of this kind was indispensably requisite. But I feel the more confirmed in my opinion on this occasion, because this measure has been preceded by a careful and copious inquiry, the details of which are before the public. That inquiry I have consulted with great pains and care. The hon. Gentleman who preceded me states, that he does not believe, that any one has read the one-hundredth part of the evidence and reasonings published by the Commissioners. This is at least a proof of their diligence. But I may state, that Ix have perused with deliberate attention, not only the general Report of the Commissioners, but their Appendix A, which contains the Reports of the Assistant-Commissioners; and I must say, that the details of abuse, as they are set forth 813 in those Reports, appalling as they are in their character, wide-spread throughout most parts of England, afflicting and ruinous to the rate-payer, and hurtful and demoralizing to the last degree to the labouring classes—I must say, that those details demonstrate in the fullest manner, the necessity for a large and comprehensive remedy, such as the present measure professes to be, and approaches to. I shall not weary the House by reading details from that Report, which would attest the magnitude of the abuse; but there is one fact capable of being shortly and plainly stated, which will convey to them some conception of the extent of the existing abuse. The House is aware, that the real and genuine object of the Poor-laws, is to furnish comfortable shelter for the aged and infirm, and to provide work for able-bodied persons who cannot procure employment. Now, the aggregate expenditure on the Poor-laws for the year ending March, 1832, was 7,036,000l. What proportion of this sum does the House imagine to have been employed in setting labourers to work for the parish? The total amount so employed was no more than 354,000l., less than one-twentieth of the whole. So much for the extent of abuse as regards the expenditure! But this vast and abusive expenditure, ruinous as it is to those who pay it, and weighing them down to the ground, in addition to so many other burthens, is, in my mind, as dust in the balance; it is as nothing, compared with the evil effect of the Poor-laws as now administered, on the character and comfort of the labouring classes. The sobriety the industry, and the independence of the labouring classes, are the first of blessings to a country, and the dearest of all objects to every virtuous citizen. Now, every page of the Reports of the Assistant Commissioners teems with evidence, that the Poor-laws throughout most parts of England are so administered as to corrupt and degrade the labourers to the last degree; to afford a premium on idleness and improvidence; and to place in the worst and most destitute condition the most deserving characters—those labourers who work the hardest, and who defer the period of marriage from an anxious desire to maintain their independence. Men of this last character are repudiated and driven from employment, and reduced to the lowest pittance. How 814 can the morality of the labourers resist such mischievous dealing as this? If it be suffered to continue, what is there to prevent them from being all gradually debased and demoralized by the withering influence of pauperism? When I read such a catalogue of evils as this, I ask myself whether it be possible to escape from them without some large and comprehensive alteration of the defective system under which they have grown up? It seems to me totally and absolutely impossible; and therefore it is, that I call upon the House to read this Bill a second time, in order that its provisions and details may be carefully considered in Committee. It makes a great and grave change in our Poor-law Administration—it creates new authorities and new powers; but, in my opinion, not at all earlier than such a change was called for. There are some of the powers conferred by this Bill to which I myself object, and others for which I as yet see no sufficient reason. I see strong objections to the power granted of committing for contempt of Board, and to the sweeping powers granted for summoning witnesses. I object, likewise, to the power granted of uniting parishes contrary to the declared sense of the inhabitants. But all these objections are, in my view, fit subjects for consideration in Committee, and there only. I am quite aware that much jealousy has been expressed on the subject of the great and novel powers proposed to be vested in the Commissioners. I cannot wonder that it should be so; for it is perfectly natural that apprehensions should be entertained when any new and comprehensive authority, not sanctioned by previous habit, is proposed to be created. But the real question for the House to consider is—not whether the powers of the Commissioners are great, but whether they are greater than the urgency of the case requires. This is the real question for the House to determine. First, are not the objects proposed to be carried into effect by this Bill not merely wise and salutary, but of imperious necessity and overwhelming importance? Secondly, if these ends are good and necessary, can they be accomplished without the species and extent of authority, and the new and peculiar agency which this Bill confers? Perhaps it may be shown in Committee, that some of the portions of authority which the Bill confers are not 815 essential to the objects aimed at, and therefore may be safely withheld. This will be matter for grave deliberation in each particular clause wherein the separate powers are enumerated. But I would earnestly entreat the House to keep in mind that general declamations on the despotic power of the Commissioners really avail little towards the merits of this question; that they serve at best only to disturb the calmness and sobriety of mind which its vast and momentous character calls for; and that, to expect the extirpation of an inveterate abuse, while we leave without correction or redress the defective administration from whence it has sprung, is no less chimerical than it would be to expect grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles. But though I am far from denying that the powers of the Commissioners are very large, such as nothing but urgent necessity can justify, yet I am bound to say, that I think they have been supposed to be much greater than the Bill really sanctions. For instance, it has been sometimes argued, as if all parochial vestries and authorities were to be altogether abrogated by this Bill. This is not at all the case. The parochial vestry still subsists; it still levies all the monies collected in the parish; it still issues all the disbursements, subject in certain definite points, to the current authority or superintending control of the Commissioners. But above all, it exists as a local point of appeal and protection against any misuse of authority by the Commissioners. If the Commissioners make any regulations which annoy or oppress the parish, still more if any exercise of their authority should fall hardly or cruelly upon individuals, the vestry will serve as a rallying point for all well-grounded discontent. Entertaining a strong and decided opinion upon this subject, I have done my best to persuade the House to read this Bill a second time. I know that I have done this at no small risk of favour and popularity to myself; for I understand that a petition was this day presented from my own constituents, directed strongly against the passing of this Bill. Sir, it is not without the deepest regret and concern, that I find myself opposed to constituents to whom I am attached by every tie, and to whom I owe the honourable station which I now occupy. But so strong is my conviction of the absolute necessity of some large re- 816 medial measure as an antidote to the overwhelming evil of pauperism—so firm is my belief of the necessity of some central supervising agency to secure the fulfilment of any salutary provisions which the Legislature may prescribe—so strong is my conviction on these cardinal points, that if it were to cost me the certain sacrifice of my seat, I should feel bound to tell my constituents that I dissented from them, and that I would do my best to promote the attainment of this necessary and, in the main, valuable remedy. In doing so, I should feel with pain, that I had decided contrary to the opinion of my constituents; but I should also feel, that I had decided in unison with the best interests of my country.
Mr. Slaneyexpressed the pleasure he felt at the calmness of tone and temper with which the hon. Member who had just sat down had delivered his opinions upon this great and important question; and he felt, that both these qualities were the more agreeable, when contrasted with the style and manner of the former speaker. It was not for him (Mr. Slaney) to presume to dictate to the House; but he thought, if ever there was a subject of great and vital importance brought under their consideration, if ever there was a question upon the consideration of which it was right that they should lay aside all violent passions and strong feelings it was the present. It was, he repeated, a most important question, as far as regarded the interests of the great body of the labouring population, and he might say, of the community at large. Their great object ought to be to elevate the character, to improve the condition, and restore the independence, of the most numerous, and he might justly add, the most valuable portion of society. If he were allowed to address the House for a short time, he would state a few facts, which would prove that this was as important a question as had been undertaken by any Government. Let the House consider for a moment the immense burthens which the present system of Poor-laws entailed upon the country. They had heard much about agricultural distress; but he would say that, of all the evils which pressed upon those who resided in the country, none could equal the evil of the Poor-laws. He called upon the House, then, not to cast back, without calm and deliberate inquiry, the measure brought for- 817 ward by Government to remedy that evil. They would find upon inquiry, that the weight of the Poor-laws had been increasing, not gradually but rapidly, upon the country, and had outstripped all the other burthens by which the people were borne down. Hon. Members might, perhaps, imagine that because the nominal burthen was the same, the real pressure had not augmented. But in this they would find they were mistaken. In 1750, the Poor-rates amounted to 700,000l.; in 1784–5, 2,000,000l.; in 1803, 4,000,000l.; in 1815, 6,000,000l.; in 1821, 7,000,000l.; in 1832, 7,054,000l. Now, if they were to take the value of wheat from 1821, as compared with the present time, they would find that the whole burthen had been increased 50 per cent, since that time—that was to say, that a farmer renting an estate would have to pay 50 per cent more Poor-rates in 1832 than 1821. The general increase throughout the country was nearly the same. And for what was he paying this increased charge. Was it in support of an improved peasantry? Was it to ameliorate the condition of an industrious and independent population? Certainly not; the burthen increased, but the working population became more wretched and depressed. It had been said, that the increase of paupers kept pace with an increase of population. Was this so? The House would see. By the 43rd of Geo. 3rd it appeared that the pauper population amounted to 1 in 9; in 1811, they amounted to 1 in 8; in 1821, to 1 in 7; and, in 1827, they amounted to 1,850,000 persons, or to 1 in 6. In several parishes they amounted to 1 in 2; and in one parish the whole population, save the parson, his clerk, and one landholder, were paupers. The total of Church-rate and Poor-rates amounted, in 1827, to 9,500,000l., being 3s. 8d. in the pound; but, taking the price of wheat at that period, and in 1815, the one being at 90s. the other at 60s. the rate would be from 5s. to 6s. in the pound. He would next draw the attention of the House to the increase of crime, which it would appear more than kept pace with the increase of the Poor-rates. In 1811, the number of criminals was 5,360; in 1816, 9,000; in 1821, 13,000; in 1826, 16,000; in 1831, 19,600. In twenty years, therefore, the increase of the population had been at the rate of about thirty-three per cent, 818 while the increase of crime during the same period was at the rate of 400 per cent. Now, when they found the burthen of Poor-rates, the increase of pauperism, and the increase of crime, pressing upon the country at the same moment, surely some remedy was required. Hon. Members might be inclined to attribute this increase of crime to other causes; but, in answer to this he would call upon them to look upon two counties of England, in one of which the Poor-laws were best administered, and in the other where they were the worst administered in the kingdom. He would take a southern and a northern county, Sussex and Northumberland. He found that, comparing the five years up to 1831, there was three times the amount of crime and of pauperism in the county where the Poor-laws were worst administered, compared with the county where they were best administered. What were the evils principally complained of under the existing system? They were, first, the allowance system; next, the making the Poor-rates and the rent of cottages part of the wages. These were the principal evils. What was proposed by this Bill? He would for a moment lay aside the machinery by which the Bill was to be worked, and upon which the hon. member for Marylebone appeared to have directed the whole of his eloquence and argument. But, laying this aside for the present, and coming to what he considered the pith of the question, he would say, that this Bill went to remedy those evils. Any hon. Member who had read the Report of the Commissioners would find, that the existing system acted on three distinct classes of persons, namely, owners of property, employers of labourers, and labourers themselves. And first, with respect to the owners of property, he would, with leave of the House read an extract from the report of the Commissioners. It had been made with great care and minuteness of research, and was worthy of attention. The hon. Member read the following:—’Our evidence exhibits no other instance of the abandonment of a parish, but it contains many in which the pressure of the poor-rate has reduced the rent to half, or to less than half, of what it would have been if the land had been situated in an unpauperised district, and some in which it has been impossible for the owner to find a tenant. Mr. Majendie 819 states, that in Lenham, Kent, at the time of his visit, some of the land was out of cultivation. A large estate has been for several years in the hands of the proprietor, and a farm of 420 acres of good land, tithe free, and well situated, had just been thrown up by the tenant; the poor-rate on it amounting to 300l. a-year. He mentions another place, in which a farm well situated, of average quality, was in vain offered at 5s. an acre, not from objection to the quality of the land, but because men of capital will not connect themselves with a parish in which the poor-rates would keep them in a constant state of vexation and anxiety. He states, that in Ardingly, those farmers who have any capital left, withdraw from the parish as soon as their leases expire. One of them admitted to him, that it was out of the power of the landlords to relieve them. Mr. Power, after mentioning the universal complaint in Cambridgeshire, that substantial tenants cannot be found at the lowest assignable rents, goes on to say, that Mr. Quentin, a gentleman of considerable landed property in the county told him, that he had a farm at Gransden, for which he could not get a tenant, even at 5s. an acre, though land from which thirty bushels of wheat an acre had been obtained.’ These were but a few instances, but he could cite many others, were it not from a fear of detaining the House. He next came to the effects of the system upon the employers of labourers, which he considered of even more consequence than the effect produced on the owners themselves. The hon. Member here read a long extract from the report, showing, in strong terms, the injury sustained by the employers under the existing system, and instancing cases where labourers refused 8s. or 10s. per week, saying, “We can do better with the parish.” He would be the last man to occupy the attention of the House unnecessarily, but he thought these extracts of importance. The hon. Member next read extracts from that part of the report which showed how the present system affected the labourer himself, and mentioned several cases where honest industrious labourers, who had saved a little money, had been thrown out of work, and had been driven almost from society, until they had spent their little savings and became paupers like the rest. Of 820 course the paupers were anxious to bring all down to their own level; but this evil was principally caused by the fact, that unless a man were dependent on the parish, he had no chance of getting work. Could any thing be more demoralizing than such a system as this? Now, then, for the remedies to be applied to these evils. These were not new, either in conception or in operation. They were exacted by the 43rd of Elizabeth, and were acted upon in the north of England, and in the south of Scotland, They had, therefore, the test of experience in their favour. They were not confined to large districts, but had been tried in small villages and parishes, amongst other places, in Uley in Gloucestershire; at Swalfield, in Wiltshire; at Southwell, in Nottinghamshire; and at Cookham, in Berkshire; and in all these instances, where distress and disturbance existed, it was found that, after the improved system was acted upon, there was neither distress nor disturbance, and persons who were before paupers, were found contributing to the savings’ banks. He would say, then, if they considered the diminution of crime as desirable, if they wished for the improvement of laud; that if they sought to obtain that which was above all desirable—the improvement of the moral condition, industrious habits, and independent feelings of the labouring population, they would adopt the measure now proposed. He sincerely hoped and trusted, that the Bill would be allowed to go into a Committee, where any trifling objections might be removed, and he had no doubt, when carried into a law, it would be found to work well, and be productive of the most beneficial effects. They had been admonished, by the increase of pauperism and of crime, of the evils of the existing system. They had, in addition to this, the awful lesson of a sort of civil war which took place about two years ago, in more than two counties, and where conflagrations became so common, that a Commission had been very properly appointed and sent down to put the law in execution. In one place, too, the labourers had actually been put up to auction, and sold to the highest bidder. Such a system was enough to make any man’s blood boil in his veins, and it ought to be put down by a strong hand. Unless Government had come forward with a Bill of this kind, there would be no se- 821 curity for life or property, and the frame of society could not hold together. It used to be the impression, that when persons went from the metropolis to the country, they retired to peaceful and quiet homes; but now no village, hamlet, or parish was safe from the work of the incendiary; and when the flames were raging at the highest, the labourers, instead of helping to extinguish them, were seen silently looking on. These were lessons which they ought not to neglect; and if the House now declined to support his Majesty’s Ministers in their efforts to remedy these evils, they might not, perhaps, ever again have an opportunity of doing so.
Mr. Claycould by no means participate in the fears entertained by the hon. member for Marylebone, that the powers which were to be intrusted to the Commissioners under the Bill were likely to produce any serious inroad on the rights and liberties of the country; for, to whom were those powers to be intrusted? Not to any body of persons powerful in themselves. If, indeed, those powers were vested in the Crown, in the House of Peers, in his Majesty’s Ministers, or in any powerful Corporation such as that of the Bank of England, there might be some apprehension; but they were to be intrusted to persons who were merely public servants, possessed of no external authority, allied to no party, and against whom every man’s hand might and would be raised in the event of their misconduct. So far from creating improper powers, the Bill went to limit the frightful powers which the magistrate on the one hand, and the overseers on the other, exercised over the labouring population, and by which they degraded that population to a state of absolute slavery. He allowed, that the powers to be intrusted by the Bill ought to be subject to proper limitations, and that there were some parts of the Bill which might be advantageously modified; but all that would be matter for consideration in the Committee. At present, such was the state of things, that no man’s property, whether in town or in country, could be said to be his own. One step after another, the labouring population had been sunk into such an abject condition, that when they roused themselves from their state of slavery, it was only to plunge into crime. The hon. member for Marylebone had said, he should divide the House to see who were 822 the supporters of the measure. He (Mr. Clay) was quite willing that the hon. Member should watch him as one of those supporters. Although the approbation of his constituents would always be dear to him as a reward for his services in that House, he never would allow the hope of their approbation to influence him in doing what was contrary to the dictates of his judgment; and he thought much too nobly of those who had sent him to Parliament as the guardian of their rights, to believe that when on any occasion be honestly differed from them, and acted conscientiously in consequence, they would feel towards him any displeasure. He had that morning had an interview with a deputation from several parishes of the metropolis, and even of those who most disapproved of the Bill, not one expressed any dissatisfaction at the conduct which he told them it was his intention to pursue. With these few words, and reserving himself for any further remarks until the Committee, he should sit down, by giving his cordial assent to the second reading of the Bill.
Sir Francis Burdettobserved, that without reading all the details of the Report, but simply from his own knowledge of the facts, every man who had any experience on the subject, must, in his opinion, soon come to a just conclusion upon it. In fact, the House had nothing to do at present with details; the question before them was the principle of the Bill. Now, he roust say, that he felt great repugnance to so extensive a change in a system which had existed so long; a change which would go to the hearts and feelings of so large a portion of the people; which would annihilate those laws which had so long been enforced; and which would take from them all hope whatever of relief from their embarrassments, however temporary. If that were not so, he should be very happy, and be almost disposed to vote for the second reading of the Bill. But then there was another objection to the measure, which struck him as most extraordinary. All the good which it proposed to do by its cumbrous machinery appeared to him to be perfectly attainable by a proper administration of the existing Poor-laws. Some of the statements which had been made that evening by an hon. Member, were irrefragable arguments against so large a change as that which was projected; for 823 the hon. Gentleman had mentioned several, parishes in which the Poor-laws were so well administered, that they formed a striking contrast to the parishes in their neighbourhood; and it was quite evident that, if a wise administration of the present Poor-laws produced beneficial effects in some parishes, the same effects might be produced in other parishes by the adoption of a similar course, without having recourse to so fundamental a change, and one which would unquestionably be repugnant to the feelings of a very large portion of the population. What were the great grievances of the present system? One was, that the overseers were, generally speaking, not men of sufficient intelligence, and that they did not devote sufficient time to their duties. Another was, that, indiscriminately, relief was given to the poor without any inquiry into their character or deserts; thereby not holding out either encouragement to the good, or discouragement to the bad. But, he repeated, these and all the other evils to the system might surely be remedied without having recourse to so extensive and overwhelming a measure as that under consideration. Surely some measure could be devised for remedying abuses which existed, without being troubled with the cumbrous machinery which disfigured the present plan. It was hardly fair to give any decided opposition to the second reading of the Bill, more especially as they had the power of altering it materially in the Committee. He remembered a Bill being brought into the House long before anything like general Reform was considered attainable, which was allowed to be read a second time, but which was so altered in Committee, that the clauses were not at all the same, and even not three lines of the original preamble were agreed to. The Bill, after coming out of the Committee, contained little more of the original Bill than the title. The same course might be pursued with the present Bill, and, therefore, he did not see any necessity for opposing the second reading. He would not take up the time of the House further than to express his regret, that so decided an alteration should be attempted at once—that so many new and varying principles should have been incorporated in one Bill. He thought each one should have been inserted in a different Bill; that they should have tried one particular point first, have 824 ascertained its practicability, and thus take a less dangerous course in the object they had in view—that of reducing expence, and, at the same time, bettering the moral condition of the poor. He really thought, that the plan would be found wholly impracticable in the way now proposed; and though he would not vote against the second reading of the Bill, he reserved to himself the full right of making a proposition of his own in any of its future stages.
Mr. Richardssaid, it had been the constant cry that Ministers ought to take the revision of the Poor-laws into their own hands, with a view to correct those manifold and glaring abuses, the existence of which no one attempted to deny. They had done so. He (Mr. Richards) had carefully read the Bill brought by them into the House, and, in spite of the taunts thrown out by the hon. member for Marylebone against it, and against the Poor-law Commissioners, on whose recommendation it was founded, he must beg leave to assert his opinion, that the Bill had many excellent features; and he was bound in common justice to say, that both the Bill and the Report did high honour to the talents and the integrity of the Commissioners appointed by Government. He thought his Majesty’s Ministers entitled to praise for their judicious selection of Commissioners; he thought the Commissioners entitled to praise for the fearless and the able discharge of an onerous, and, in many respects, a painful duty. The hon. Baronet who last addressed the House, animadverted, in a slight degree, on what had fallen from preceding speakers; but he (Mr. Richards) must say, with the greatest respect for that hon. Baronet, that he could not have read the report of the Commissioners; or, if he had read it, that he had not brought to its consideration, that keen and shrewd talent which generally characterised his observations in that House. The principal provision of the Bill was that which went to deny relief to the able-bodied pauper, except in exchange for labour; and if this provision held out any hope—which certainly it did—of safely mitigating the immense abuses of this part of the system—of doing away with a notorious, a crying, and worse than all, an increasing evil—he did not, see any reason which could fairly impede any hon. Gentleman from giving the measure his best consideration, or justify him in say- 825 ing, that it should not go to a second reading. He really must be allowed to say, that not only had there been a great deal of violence displayed in the sentiments uttered by the hon. member for Marylebone in that House, but that, out of doors, there had been a bold and unjust attempt made to raise a cry against it. He would advert to a pamphlet which had been lately published by an hon. member of that House (Mr. Walter), whose connexions with the press made his assertions of greater weight, and required that his opinions should be more closely examined. The hon. author had been obliged to admit, that the Poor-laws were deserving of consideration, and, in the eighteenth page of his little work, he said, ‘It is very certain that distress has rather increased than diminished. It has extended higher, with the most frightful rapidity. The British farmer has been dragged down, and has, perhaps, not reached the bottom of the abyss; and the landed proprietor is in no enviable situation. But I do not think any of these are to be improved by a totally new system, engendered in despair, and which we are called upon to adopt in the heat of the moment. I should rather desire that we might cast our eyes back on ancient usages, and endeavour to return to them, than introduce a plan which might draw the country yet further from its ancient habits, and ultimately tend to change the very nature of Englishmen, who have been accustomed to look to each other for support, and not to call for the cold and hard hand of Government in all occurrences of life and changes of fortune.’ The author himself, by the words, ‘and has not, perhaps, reached the bottom of the abyss,’ seemed to anticipate a future which might be worse in its consequences than the present; and he agreed with that hon. Member, that it would be so, if something were not done; but he still confidently expected—he said expected, for it was beyond a hope—that the measure then before the House, amended as it would be in some points in committee, would redress many of the great and startling evils which pervaded the present system—would raise the character of the labourer—(and what sacrifices should not be made for such an end?)—and greatly benefit the proprietor of the land. It was because the labourer would have a 826 chance of raising himself—it was because the opportunity would be afforded him of making an advance in civilization—it was because by his own industry he might have a chance of bettering his wages—it was because there was here a prospect of others preventing themselves from being dragged into “an abyss of pauperism,” that he gave to this measure certainly a very humble, but most earnest and anxious support. Adverting to the application of the principle, the question arose, whether the machinery was sufficiently simple, or, at all events, as simple as could be devised? and he must candidly express his opinion, that changes were desirable. The Central Board was certainly to be armed with immense powers, and, in this point, more than any other, he thought the proposed change too great. It appeared to him that some plan could be devised by which the same effect might be brought about without resorting to so great an organic change, and without shocking, in so violent a manner, the feelings and the habits of the people. It happened to him, a short time back, to pay a visit to the sister island, in relation to this great question, and he there saw a species of poor-law in active operation in the city of Dublin, of which few persons in this country had perhaps any cognizance. Owing to the dreadful annoyance experienced by the inhabitants some years back from pauperism, and its usual concomitants, disease, and crime, a Mendicity Society had been established, in order to redress the evil; and though gentlemen in that House might suppose, that no steps had been taken in that country to remedy the pauperism which prevailed, they would, from this fact, find that even many years ago, it had occupied the anxious attention, and commanded the untiring exertions of many eminent and excellent men. The principle established by this institution was, that no relief should be extended to an able-bodied labourer, except for work done; and the happiest consequences had resulted from the regulation. The very first step, on application for relief, was to give out work, and wages were paid in fair and just proportion. He believed that the whole city of Dublin would bear willing testimony to the advantages which had accrued from the plan, and as it had now been tried for upwards of twenty years, he thought the Poor-Law Commissioners were perfectly right in recommend- 827 ing the adoption of a similar plan in this country. The author of the pamphlet to which he had already alluded, said, ‘Had the projects which others have recommended been any of them of beneficial operation, I should have deferred to authority; but finding the whole system of Poor-Laws, from their establishment to the present day, a history of changes without benefit, every fresh Act indicating the inefficiency of that by which it had been preceded, I began to think that one man’s opinion might be as good as another’s.’ Now, no doubt, the hon. Member had good reason for liking his own panacea, but that furnished no reason why others should speak in praise of it. Further on, the hon. Gentleman quoted, with approbation, a speech of Lord Harewood’s, in which the noble Earl said, ‘He hoped that he should live to see the time when the original intention of the Legislature, in introducing the Poor-laws, would be brought into operation, viz. to provide employment for those who required it, and to provide relief for those only who were incapable, from age or infirmity, of working.’ Well, and what was the great principle laid down by the Poor-law Commissioners, but that which he had just quoted? What was their object but to bring back the administration of the Poor-laws to their original condition—to expose the nuisances and eradicate the evils which time and mismanagement had allowed to creep in? This was the principle which pervaded every line of their Report—the restoration of the original design was the object of the Bill. Knowing this—seeing it in the Bill itself—he should certainly vote for the second reading, reserving to himself the right of suggesting, in Committee, certain alterations which, as they did not affect the principle itself, it would be wholly out of order if he were to attempt to dilate upon in that stage.
Mr. Edward Bullersaid, the hon. member for Marylebone had stated many of his own notions without condescending even to touch on the substantial inaccuracies of the Bill, or to notice any of its real merits. The hon. Gentleman seemed to look with more than common fight at the erection of a Central Board, whose powers should pervade and control the mighty parish of Marylebone—hitherto looked upon as an independent state, but now it appeared a tributary one 28 —a kingdom of his own—the El Dorado of his own imagination—in defence of the crown and dignity of which he appeared ready to venture his all. But there were parishes, he begged leave to say, which could not boast the beneficent influence of a well-regulated vestry. There were such things as small parishes—aye, and so many of them, that their population far exceeded the population of the towns, and in these the abuses were so frightful, that nothing but a strong, and, in some instances, an almost despotic power would be able to correct them. He would not deny, that the power to be vested in the Central Board was strong in the extreme; perhaps it was hardly constitutional; but when they recollected the constitution of the vestries in small districts—the thousand abuses which pervaded them—when they recollected the conduct of the magistracy, how they differed in opinion and practice, how local feeling operated in one case, how the petty ambition of appearing the poor man’s friend influenced in another—how unable they were, in pauperized districts, to enforce anything like economy, order, or regularity; when they recollected these things, he was sure they must concede the desirableness of at least trying the proposed plan. For his own part, he felt, from long conviction, the absolute necessity of having a controlling power, remote from local influence—free from local prejudices—that would have the will and the ability to administer the law firmly, impartially, and justly. He did not conceal his opinion, that certain of the powers conferred, such as compelling the attendance of witnesses, committing for contempt, enforcing the production of deeds, &c. would require revision; but that revision belonged to the Committee, and ought not to act as a bar to the second reading of the bill. To another power vested in the Board, he also entertained a strong repugnance, though he was afraid it would prove to be necessary—the removal of salaried officers. Every one knew the incompetency of these functionaries—their ignorance, their tyranny—savages on the one hand, and peculators on he other, and not to be controlled without some strong power like the present. Instances of parish officers, too, who overbore the vestries, were by no means uncommon. He was acquainted with the case of a large parish, in which the governor of the workhouse, a man of violent passions and 829 vindictive temper, controlled the whole parish; and such was the dread of this individual, that, although the mismanagement of the workhouse was iniquitous, and the expenditure excessive, no one ventured to come forward to oppose it. With regard to the proposal of the hon. Member to vest a controlling power in the hands of the Secretary of State, if the hon. Member looked into the Bill, he would find that such a power was given by it, and, in fact, that there was to exist an absolute control over the Commissioners in the hands of the Secretary of State, and that no control existed in reference to the Secretary himself. With respect to the power of the Commissioners to build workhouses, effect unions of parishes without consent, and regulate the relief to be given to able-bodied labourers and their families, he considered the authority granted by the Bill as by far too extensive. If the Bill should work well, it would be owing to the discretion and prudence of the Commissioners, and not inconsequence of the wisdom of Parliament. He doubted how far Parliament had a right to delegate such powers as it was proposed to grant to those Commissioners. The House was appointing something like an absolute and unlimited monarchy by means of the provisions of this Bill. Gentlemen might be influenced by a particular bias, and attempt to pursue their opinions too far, or carry on their measures of reform too hastily; there did not exist a sufficient check upon these possibilities. He must also complain, that the duties of the Commissioners were left undefined; he thought that their great powers ought to be defined distinctly. He thought it more fit that Parliament should define the duties and limit the powers of the Commissioners. It would be well, therefore, if Parliament passed a law for the government of workhouses. Much might be done to protect the rate-payers, and define the labour and hours of labour of the paupers. There was but one point more to which he should allude. The Commissioners were empowered to unite parishes for the maintenance of workhouses; and they would also have the power of separating parishes and families. They might place a husband in one workhouse, his wife in a second, and their boys in a third. He had heard, that it was intended to exercise this power of separation. If that report were confirmed, he must say, that to such 830 a course of proceeding, he, for one, would never consent. He was of opinion, that, in the management of workhouses, there should be no more restraint upon the inmates than was absolutely necessary for the maintenance of order; and though it might be requisite to separate men from their wives generally, yet rules should be laid down which, enforcing regularity, should be consonant to humanity.
Mr. Waltersaid, that it was impossible to conceal the fearful importance of the present measure, any more than its anomalous and unprecedented character. It was an attempt, not to alter or improve, but to abolish at one stroke the whole body of our Poor-laws, and to substitute another body of laws, totally different in principle and practice, in their place. The general usage in this country had been to correct abuses, to remove pressures, to strengthen infirm parts, and so by a system or succession of expedients our laws had grown up to their present form and consistency. He confessed that he dreaded, and his constituents were also beginning to dread, this new-made constitution, for such it must be considered, for the poor, and for every parish in the kingdom. He said, that people attained rights by long and unbroken enjoyment; and the poor of this country had rights, many of which they had lost, as the right of commonage, by the indiscriminate rage for enclosures. The right of maintenance and employment still remained to them under the old constitution by which they had been governed; and if injured, if their rights were violated, they were within reach of those to whom, by their voices, they could complain of that violation. But by this new constitution, their rights were to be removed from their old basis, and placed on a totally different foundation; and that foundation would not be within their reach, but placed in London, in a central board or commission. A certain Abbé at the beginning of the French Revolution was said to have had constitutions of every kind, which he could take out of the pigeon-holes of his bureau. This certainly was not one of his constitutions, for there had never been any legal provision for the poor in France; but, it resembled them; for it had no connexion with any thing that ever existed before in the habits of the people lo whom it was meant to be applied, no analogy with any of their pre- 831 ceding laws, nothing congenial with their modes of thinking; it came out of the pigeon-hole of some theorist’s brain, and had been supported before it was offered to that House by a partial examination of individuals and series of leading questions. He hoped the measure would not be persevered in, or, if persevered in, that it would not be carried forward without the most measured consideration and the universal assent of the nation, if that could be obtained. A copy of the Bill should be laid on every vestry table. Other circumstances connected with the measure were the appalling expense and ramified patronage with which it even started. What it might be in the issue heaven alone knew. He thought that, under a Reformed Parliament, there was to be a saving of expenses and a diminution of patronage. By this Bill there would be a mass of patronage created, of commissioners, sub-commissioners, clerks, and guardians, and an expense incalculable, for the first estimate rarely sufficed for one single and definite object; and who could conceive the expense of a system which it was meant should continue for ever? He should certainly vote for the postponement of the Bill till next Session, if the hon. Member divided the House, and should suggest that his Majesty’s Ministers should direct their energies for the present to an amendment of the laws of settlement and of bastardy—of the former, by a very different provision from that which appeared in the Bill, by which a man in his old age, should he have fallen into misfortune, might be transported to the place of his birth, which he might never have seen from his infancy. In these two objects there was enough to engage their attention, and that of the House, during the present Session; and such a course would be more in accordance with the usual practice of legislation in this country, to remedy evils singly, rather than to body forth new forms and constitutions.
Mr. Humesaid, that the hon. Member who had just addressed the House, seemed extremely anxious that we should not enter upon any course which would entail an extravagant amount of expense upon the country. In that particular, he entirely agreed with the hon. Member; and it was because he thought the present Bill calculated to save millions of expenditure, that he approved of its provisions. If the 832 hon. Member looked into the Bill, or had not forgot what he wrote on it the other day, he must agree with him, that the course which we should take in this instance, did not consist in a bit-by-bit reform, but in the adoption of a complete and comprehensive measure. What ought men to do who were aboard a sinking ship? Should they not try to save it by a bold and decisive course? The hon. Member had endeavoured to persuade his constituents to entertain an unfavourable opinion of the Bill: he had stated to them what he conceived to be the evils of the measure, and his own opinion of it. The hon. Member also admitted the evils of the present system. Yet, great and manifold as these were, he now proposed palliatives rather than a cure, and recommended the House to try what could be done for the amendment of the law of settlement. The hon. Member said, in his pamphlet on this subject. “In the mean time, it is very certain, that distress has rather increased than diminished. It has extended higher, with the most frightful rapidity. The British farmer has been dragged down, and has perhaps not reached the bottom of the abyss; and the landed proprietor is in no enviable situation.” How was it possible to reconcile those sentiments with the hon. Member’s speech, and with the course which he now proposed? The hon Member had spoken of the rights of the poor. What rights did this Bill take away from the poor man? The hon. Member had spoken of evils and abuses, and, in his pamphlet, addressed to his constituents, he said, “But I do not think any of these are to be improved by a totally new system, engendered in despair, and which we are called upon to adopt in the heat of the moment. I should rather desire, that we might cast our eyes back to our ancient usages, and endeavour to return to them, than introduce a plan which might draw the country yet further from its ancient habits, and ultimately tend to change the very nature of Englishmen, who have been accustomed to look at each other for support, and not to call for the cold and hard hand of Government in all occurrences of life and changes of fortune.” He asked whether it could be fairly said, that this measure had been concocted in the heat of the moment, when it was notorious, that it was brought forward, after two years of cautious inquiry? If 833 the farmers were dragged down into the abyss, and if the landed proprietors were in no enviable situation, he put it to the hon. Member, whether it was not desirable, after two years of anxious inquiry, and after an extensive and carefully conducted investigation, to attempt some effectual remedy for the evil? The proposed remedy was now before the House, and notwithstanding all that had been urged against it, he was not convinced, that the measure would be unpopular when it should be generally understood. Measures of the most infamous kind had been taken with a view to prejudice the public mind against the Bill. Tyranny and injustice were talked of, and all sorts of mis-statements were hazarded, supported by garbled extracts. The passions of the people were appealed to, and inflamed by telling them, that they were to be enslaved and ruined by this measure. Those statements were perfectly unfounded; he denied that the Bill was calculated to injure the poor. He was the last man to injure the poor—and if he did not believe the measure to be for the benefit of the poor as well as the rich, he would never agree to it. The hon. Member should take care what he was about. He said, that he wanted to raise the moral standard of the people: could he do so while the people were kept in destitution and dependence—while the labourer was kept in a dependent situation, without sixpence that he could call his own, till, driven by despair, he became utterly reckless of what he did, finding his family destitute and neglected, and every prospect of improvement closed against him? At this very moment there were instances of grandfathers, fathers, and sons, all in the workhouse together—a state of things lamentable in its consequences, and all occasioned by the demoralizing laws now in existence, and by the ill effects of the present system. This measure did not take away any existing rights—every man had a right to a subsistence (that he freely admitted), but it was not the part of good laws to support men in idleness and encourage improvident habits. What was now proposed was with a view to correct acknowledged evils. Would anybody object to this? He readily admitted, that he thought some of the powers conferred by the Bill too great, too extensive, and such as would not be found to be required; but that was not the question now before the House. 834 The first forty-four clauses of the Bill embodied the means for carrying the measure into effect. After those followed what he considered as the principles of the proposed system, and to that branch of the subject he had heard no objection. If the machinery were thought too great or extensive, or if there appeared anything unconstitutional in its nature, let it be restricted—make the Commissioners responsible for their conduct; indeed no men should be intrusted with irresponsible power. Therefore, if the present check and control which existed by means of the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and the Privy Council, were not considered sufficient, let it be increased. He maintained, however, that the control was very considerable. All regulations must be submitted to the Secretary of State, who had forty days for their consideration previously to any rule coming into operation. Great delusion existed with respect to the present Bill, but he trusted that it would be removed as the matter came to be discussed and canvassed. He had seen individuals from every part of Middlesex, and having explained to them the true purport and object of the measure, so far from wishing to have it materially altered or abandoned, they all agreed in its propriety, and hailed the advantages of which it held out a prospect. They said, however, that there were powers conferred by the Bill which they were anxious to see restricted. To this he replied, that those powers would be limited if it were found necessary. They said, that there should be a uniformity of system—the Bill was intended to effect that object. He felt somewhat surprised at the observations of his hon. friend the member for Marylebone, but doubtless his hon. friend thought this a good opportunity to trumpet the great and noble acts of the Marylebone vestry. He was ready to give the vestry of that parish full credit for its acts; he had exerted himself on behalf of that vestry, and he said, there was an instance of a proper control being exercised by the vestry. But did his hon. friend mean to say, that he thought the parish of Marylebone a fair instance or example of what was done in the rest of England? There was no intention on the part of the Commissioners to interfere with Marylebone; but if, at a future day, even that parish should fall away from its present virtuous course, it 835 was proper that there should be an efficient control in some quarter—some remedy for evils that might arise. He denied the assumed unanimity of the Marylebone vestry in the petition presented to the House on this subject. Out of 120 individuals only twenty-four concurred in it. [Sir Samuel Whalley: Forty-seven.] Yes, the petition was afterwards signed by that number, but who were present when the petition was agreed on? What was the number of the majority in its favour? Only seventeeen, while eleven voted against it. In other parishes many votes had been taken on the subject, and petitions were coming up to the House against the Bill, which proceeded upon a perfect misapprehension and mistake as to its principles. Alarms and fears were groundlessly engendered in some people’s brains, and in other people without brains; and thus the subject being imperfectly understood or altogether misapprehended, a prejudice was excited. The hon. Member talked of the impropriety of granting this power and that power, but he agreed in the principle of the Bill, although disapproving of the Central Board. Now, that was merely the machinery of the measure, and should be a subject for discussion in the Committee. Yet this machinery seemed to appal the hon. Member, who fancied he beheld in the Central Board a great and mighty giant, the simple movement of whose hands alarmed him to such a degree, that before venturing to grapple with it he was anxious to run away. He hoped that the House would not be actuated by such groundless apprehensions, but that it would agree to the second reading of the Bill and afford ample time for discussing the measure on other opportunities. The hon. member for Berkshire had not stated a single tangible objection to the measure—had his hon. friend the member for Marylebone stated a single objection? Not one, except as against the machinery of the Bill. But this was not the time to discuss objections of that nature. He asked, however, whether a uniformity of system could be ever carried into effect without some controlling power? His hon. friend would not answer in the negative. Well, then, all were agreed as to the principle of the measure. Even the hon. member for Berkshire admitted that we were sinking to the bottom of the abyss—that we were in a drowning state, and drowning men 836 would catch at straws. Now this constituted his objection to a limited or bit-by-bit Reform, and evinced the necessity of a decisive measure. It was clear, that a controlling power must be lodged somewhere for the purpose of procuring uniformity; and that power would, in his humble judgment, be best lodged, as was proposed by this Bill, in the Central Board of Commissioners. If the power proposed were considered too extensive, let it be limited—if at present undefined, let it be denned, and he was sure the Bill would work well. He would mention that the state of Massachusetts had adopted the English system of Poor-laws, which was introduced by the first settlers, who carried it with them from this country. What was the consequence? The greatest amount of allowance raised by any state of the Union was in Massachusetts, where there was the greatest number of paupers. About the time of the commencement of the present inquiry in this country, the Assembly of Massachusetts appointed a Committee to investigate the subject, and the result was, to produce a Report declaring the opinion of the Committee, that to have men depending on any system of allowance was in itself a great evil—that the whole system was wrong—and the Committee concluded with a recommendation to take away all right of support whatsoever. If this were proposed in England, the hon. member for Berkshire would have ground to complain, but we did not do that. In Massachusetts they had come to a conclusion that the system was essentially bad, and in New York also a Report had been presented to the legislature in the month of February in the present year, stating that they had put an end to out of door allowances, and that the effect in one short year had been to reduce the expenditure fifty per cent, and improve the morals of the people. With such instances before their eyes, it was bad policy to damp the exertions of Ministers, and propose that the present Bill be read a second time that day six months. They deserved the praise of every man for the present attempt, which, if not perfect, ought not to be stopped unless the House was disposed to put an end to all improvements in the Poor-taws. He asked those Gentlemen who viewed with jealousy that part of the Bill which went to confer an unconstitutional power on the Commissioners, to suspend their decision till the 837 Bill went into Committee. He trusted that the Bill would meet with such powerful support as would show the country that there was a determination to meet the great evil of the Poor-laws in the face. The measure would be beneficial to the farmers and landowners, and was in favour of the poor man. Let not power which was not necessary, for the success of the measure, be given, but let that be given, and then the measure would have a fair trial.
Mr. Benettsaid, that too much blame had been thrown on the Magistrates, who had acted solely under the law. They had distributed their own money and the money of their tenants. They had been accused by the public Press, first of having been too sparing of their own money, and then of having been too lavish of it. This was a very difficult subject. A Bill had been brought in by Mr. Sturges Bourne, founded on the evidence and Report in the year 1817. No man understood the Poor-laws better than that Gentleman, and yet his Bill was not successful. Then the matter was afterwards taken up by Sir James Scarlett, who gave up his Bill. He was followed by Mr. Nolan and Mr. Slaney, both of whom in succession gave up their own measures. He was not standing up to oppose the second reading of the Bill, though he was confident that it must be altered so as to make it agreeable to the country. He agreed with many Gentlemen who said that something must be done; but if something must be done, it must be done well. The workhouse system, which only perpetuated poverty, must be abolished. The system might be put down without this machinery of the workhouse. The great evil in the west of England was, that able young men, who did no work, received wages. He should certainly support the second reading of the Bill.
Mr. Hawesexpressed his assent to the principle of the Bill, and should vote for its going into a Committee. He had heard a great deal about despotic power, but he could not conceive how this Bill could be called a despotic measure. The power which it was proposed to intrust to the Commissioners might be subjected to some appellate jurisdiction. With some restriction of that kind be should vote for the Committee, reserving it to himself to check any great and unnecessary power which might be conferred by the Bill on the Commissioners
Mr. Brothertonsaid, that the Bill, before it received the final sanction of the House, must receive many Amendments and modifications. His constituents were in favour of the principle of the Bill. It appeared to him that, considering the fluctuations in the trade of the country, it would be impolitic to exclude able-bodied labourers from relief. This Bill would Reform the system of management introduced into parishes. He should support the second reading of the Bill, at the same time he must say, that he thought the power of the Commissioners by far too great.
Lord Althorphad great satisfaction in stating, that he did not see any occasion to detain the House very long. The objections which had been raised against the provisions of the present Bill in the course of the evening’s debate were so few and so inconsiderable that he need trouble the House with but very few observations. It was extremely satisfactory to him to find that such a general concurrence of sentiment existed in favour of the principles of the Bill before the House. Although some very few Gentlemen had announced their intention of voting against the second reading, there was no class of Representatives or of peculiar opinions united against it. The hon. member for Westminster (Sir Francis Burdett) had expressed an opinion that the provisions of this Bill were too large; but if he had considered how large was the evil that was to be remedied, he would not have expressed that opinion. If it was attempted by small measures to Reform the present evil system of the Poor-laws, it would be but a continuance of the mistaken principle which had hitherto been acted upon in legislating on this subject. It was well known that Bill after Bill had been carried through the Legislature upon this subject, which, so far from having any beneficial effect, had, in too many cases, made matters worse than before. Another hon. Member had said, that if parishes were left to themselves they would adopt such measures as might promise to be of a beneficial practical effect, and had instanced cases in which a wholesome system of Poor-laws had been introduced by the assiduity and good sense of the local authorities. He admitted these facts, but in doing so he thought they were but an additional proof in favour of the necessity for some general measure of 839 the kind now before the House. The object of the present Bill was to raise the moral as well as the economical condition of the labouring classes. Some hon. Members had declared, that they did not see how that object was to be effected by it. Now it was evident, that inasmuch as the application for parish relief was discouraged, the labourer must bear a more independent and a more respectable character. The hon. member for Wiltshire, in allusion to the difficulties of the subject, had quoted the names of a number of persons of eminence and great ability who had attempted, but failed, in such a project. No man was more conscious than he was of the difficulties with which this question was encumbered; and so convinced was he of them, that he thought no one could hope to succeed in avoiding them unless he had previously obtained that vast fund of information upon the subject which it had been the object of the Commission recently appointed to procure. It was not at all surprising that Members unprepared with this fund of materials should have hitherto failed in attempting to legislate upon the subject. He now came to a few particular observations upon what had fallen in the course of the debate. The hon. member for the City of London had stated, as to the power proposed to be invested in the Commissioners to be appointed under this Bill, that if one fraction more was given than was necessary for carrying the provisions of the Bill into effect that fraction ought to be taken away. He perfectly agreed in that opinion; and, therefore, when the Bill came before a Committee of the House he should certainly not oppose any diminution of those powers which might be suggested, provided it did not go to such an extent as to invalidate the principle of the Bill. The hon. member for Lambeth had suggested the propriety of a superior Court of Appeal from the decision of the Commissioners; and he must say, that he did not feel inclined to oppose that proposal. He would also be happy to meet the inclinations of another hon. Member in doing away, as far as possible, with the immunities of indemnity proposed to be granted to the Commissioners in their official capacity; at the same time that he thought that, in cases where they might be acting strictly in execution of the provisions of this Act, they should be protected. If actions 840 against them were permitted under such circumstances it might be productive of great and unnecessary vexation and litigation, as attornies in every county town would be constantly taking advantage of it to harass the Commissioners in the exercise of their duty. Another hon. Member, in allusion to the extensive powers which the Commissioners were to hold, had particularly alluded, amongst others, to their authority for settling the salaries, &c, of the overseers. It should be recollected that, whatever might have been said to the contrary on the subject, this Bill did not vest the power of appointing the overseers in the Commissioners. An hon. Member who had made some observations panegyrising the present system of Select Vestries in some parishes had, nevertheless, not advanced anything against the principle of paid overseers; and he did not think it expedient that the Commissioners, having authority to direct the duties of the overseers, should not also be intrusted with the payment of their services. He next came to the principle of enabling the Commissioners to make laws and general rules. He would ask, notwithstanding the objections which had been raised against it, whether this was so new a principle as to be objectionable on that account? Was not the power now vested in the Magistrates in appointing the allowance scale tantamount to making regulations? He was perfectly ready, however, to take into consideration any objection which might be raised upon this point when the Bill came before the Committee. He must be allowed to observe, however, that the House should not come to legislate upon a matter of this kind without giving some credit, to the Commissioners or other officers to be appointed for not seeking to exceed their legitimate authority. An hon. Member who had lately addressed the House, had borne testimony to the efficient alterations which had been effected in various parishes at different times and under different systems of management. Those facts appeared to him to bear strongly in favour of a measure of this kind, which would appoint a body of men capable of investigating all the particulars of different parishes with a power to appoint the course to be adopted in the various cases which presented themselves under the existing system. No one Legislative Act could be passed applicable to every particular case; what would be a proper course 841 to adopt in one district would be directly the reverse in another. With respect to the union of parishes, it had been suggested as an improvement, that a scale should be adopted as to the extent of the districts. The hon. member for Marylebone had declared that there existed no sort of abuse in that parish. He had no doubt but the affairs of that parish were undergoing a wholesome course of improvement, yet he could hardly think, that there were not some points in which it might yet be improved by such a measure as that before the House. Some Gentlemen had expressed alarm at the removal of power from the hands of the Select Vestries; but it really appeared to him, that so far from the useful services of the vestries being impaired, they would be increased when the Bill came into operation. It should be recollected, that already under the existing state of the law the Magistrates had a very great compulsory power over the vestry authorities. He now came to the proposed workhouse system, upon which much misrepresentation appeared to exist. It was said, that the intention of the Bill went wholly to prevent the granting of relief out of the workhouse walls. Now the fact was, there was no one clause in the Bill to that effect; but, on the contrary, a passage expressly declaring, that in cases of emergency relief might be given out of doors. The Commissioners were certainly to have the power of recommending the building of workhouses; but, so far from all relief of any other description being prevented by the Bill, he believed, that when it came fairly into play, the out-door system of relief might be advantageously increased rather than otherwise. The hon. member for Marylebone, and another hon. Gentleman, would have confined, it seemed, all legislation upon the subject of the Poor-laws to the matter of settlement only; and the hon. member for Marylebone, with what propriety had not appeared, had denominated the present Law of Settlement as a remains of feudal times. With respect to the mode which it was proposed to introduce, he must say, that he not only considered it superior to that already in operation, either in England or in Scotland itself; but that it was at once the simplest and most efficient that could be contrived. In Committee, however, it might be susceptible of some modifications, which he should be willing to con- 842 sider with a candid and unprejudiced mind. The whole Bill, in short, was still open to improvement, for he took this occasion to say, that it was not to be considered in the light of a party or Government question. The Government had done their utmost to meet the difficulties and the necessities of the case; and he should most readily give way to any well-supported opposition which might be urged in Committee, and which did not tend to diminish the efficiency of the general principle of the measure. Under these circumstances, he had no doubt, that the second reading of the Bill would be carried by a large majority. He hoped such would be the result of this evening’s division, as it was a matter of great importance, after the misrepresentation and clamour which had been raised against it in some quarters out of doors, that the House should show their determination not to abstain on that account from giving their support to a measure which they thought would confer advantages on the great body of the people.
Sir James Scarlettdid not wish to detain the House, but he must beg leave to say, that he congratulated the country upon the Government having taken this momentous question into their hands; and though there were some particulars in which he thought the provisions of the Bill faulty, in respect to the authorities to be vested in the Commissioners, and the proposed alterations in the Law of Settlement, and the workhouse system, yet he would vote for the second reading. With respect to the Commissioners, he was decidedly opposed to the union of legislative and executive power which it was proposed to repose in them. This was a delegation of authority, a sort of imperium in imperio, which he could never bring himself to allow.
The House divided—Ayes 319; Noes 20: Majority 299.