On the Motion of Lord Althorp, the Order of the Day for the House to resolve itself into a Committee on the Poor-laws Amendment Bill was read.
was anxious to put a question to the noble Lord (Lord Althorp). Of the three Bills which had been introduced with the view of relieving the agricultural interest of the country, the Tithe Commutation, County Rates, and Poor-law Amendment Bills, the last was the only one now in progress; and he (Sir Eardley Wilmot) very much feared it would not, if passed, be found so beneficial as the noble Lord seemed to imagine; at all events, it would not give immediate relief. In the present terrible state of agricultural depression something was requisite to be done; and, therefore, he was anxious to ascertain whether the noble Lord had in contemplation any other measure, in order, if possible, to afford immediate relief.
said, that the better administration of the Poor-laws, wherever it had been introduced, had given immediate relief to the agricultural population; and, therefore, he certainly anticipated considerable advantage from the operation of the measure now under the consideration of the House. With respect to other measures of relief, he was not prepared to say, that anything further would be introduced by Ministers this Session; and one reason was, the great difficulty found in propounding any measure which would give immediate relief.
On the Question, that the Speaker do leave the Chair,
rose to move an instruction to the Committee; and, as he had not yet had an opportunity of speaking on the general principles of the Bill, he trusted the House would excuse him for saying a few words. No man was more alive than he was to the abuses and mischiefs which had been produced by the mal-administration of the Poor-laws in this country; and as no one had laboured more assiduously than himself in exposing those abuses and mischiefs, so no one could be more anxious and determined to reform the one, and, in every practicable shape, to apply proper corrections to the other. But, Reformer as he had been, he must own, he was astonished and confounded when he opened the Bill now before the House; it appeared to go a length which was altogether uncalled for, and was, in fact, of so extraordinary a nature that he could scarcely reconcile it with the principles of common sense, much less with those of justice. In considering the measure, he thought it desirable to draw a broad line of distinction between that part of it which related to the Law of Settlement and Bastardy, and which he would at present abstain from discussing, and the changes which it proposed in the Law of Relief, and the mode in which it was to be administered. To the latter he meant to confine his remarks. The change in relief was this,—that whereas, up to this time, relief had been administered by overseers and vestries, by order of the neighbouring magistrates, it was henceforward to be administered by the same parties, or by the vestries, or guardians of united parishes, at their discretion alone, or subject only to the control of a distant Board, sitting in London, a branch of the executive Government. Considering, that the machinery for administering any law was as important as the letter of the law itself,—that it mattered little what the law was, unless the machinery rendered it effective,—and that any law might be virtually repealed by such changes in its machinery as might place it out of the reach of the only parties who were likely to call it into exercise,—considering this,—it appeared to him of the highest importance that large alterations, such as that proposed by the present Bill, in the machinery of such a law as the Poor-law, should be most minutely and carefully examined, lest the change should tend to impair the substantial efficacy of the law itself. With all its defects, the Poor-law of England was a noble, a God-like institution,—worthy of the age (the brightest in our national annals) in which it originated,—worthy of the great statesmen (Cecil, Burleigh, Bacon, and Walsingham) who enacted it. It amply deserved the title of the great charter of the English poor. For more than two centuries it had been the blessing and the boast of England—the guarantee of her internal tranquillity—the security for the lives of the poor—and for the property and peace of the rich. In spite of the abuses by which it had been of late years perverted, it had been throughout one of the most pregnant and copious sources of the wealth, the strength, and the prosperity of this country. If such were a true description of the Poor-law, it behoved the Legislature to exercise the greatest caution, lest, in an attempt to prune its excrescences, they might cut through some of the vital parts of the system,—lest, in an endeavour to improve the working of its machinery, they might damage its mainspring, and stop the beneficial action of the entire machine. The principles of the Poor-law of Elizabeth were mainly these:—first, the suppression of mendicancy and vagrancy; those destructive pests,—fatal wherever they were allowed to spread unchecked, to the ease, the peace, the comfort of society,—to the security of property and the accumulation of wealth; as the means of accomplishing this, and the only means—proved to be so by the preceding century of ineffectual legislation of a palliative character,—the law of Elizabeth compelled relief, from a public fund, of those impotent and infirm poor, who would otherwise be forced to beg their maintenance; and likewise, though as a separate matter, the setting to work of those able-bodied poor persons, who, not being able to procure work for themselves, and having no property or means of livelihood, would, without such provision, be driven to vagrancy or crime. Of these two perfectly distinct branches of the Poor-law, the first was infinitely the more important. If work and wages were secured to all who were in health and strength, constituting, perhaps, nine-tenths of the population, it might be practicable, with comparative safety, to neglect the relief of the small, infirm remainder, who would, in this case, be almost certainly supported by their relatives, friends, and neighbours. He did not mean to say, that legislative relief for the impotent poor was not a proper and necessary institution; far from it; but in every point of view, whether of policy, of justice, or of humanity, this was of far less im- portance, of a far less imperious necessity, than the provision for setting to work all those able-bodied poor persons, who, in a complicated and artificial state of society, would, at times, be found unable to obtain employment; and who, if not employed, would infallibly, to escape starvation, be forced to prey upon society in some shape or other. He dwelt on this point the more because some excellent persons, friendly to the principle of a Poor-law, would yet confine its provisions to the relief of the impotent poor, and shrink from the enactment, that work should be given to the able-bodied. He could not understand their objection, it being self-evident that if relief, in the shape of work, were refused to an able-bodied man, really in want of it, one of two things must happen:—either he must become sick and infirm from hunger and want within twenty-four hours, in which case he must be relieved as impotent, and nothing would be got in return, whereas the parish might have got back its full value, by setting him to work twenty-four hours sooner; or, as the only alternative, he was driven to mendicancy, vagrancy, and plunder, and the very social evils which it was the object of the Poor-laws to prevent were brought about. The provision for setting to work the able-bodied poor was, therefore, by far the most valuable branch of the Poor-law of Elizabeth. It seized and appropriated to public and productive purposes all that large stock of loose unemployed labour that would otherwise be wasted, or engaged only in a destructive and injurious form. It set to work, in a productive manner, all those individuals who would otherwise be wandering round the country as sturdy vagrants, such as were seen infesting every corner and every street and road in Ireland, a pest and a nuisance, eating the bread of idleness, spreading everywhere filth, disease, and demoralization, consuming the resources of the country without adding anything to them, perpetrating outrage, creating disturbance, and exciting disaffection and rebellion against the authorities of the land. All these were, by the law of Elizabeth, employed not only in a harmless, but in a beneficial manner. In fact the law had effected that for at least two centuries after its enactment. The result was seen in the development of the productive powers of the country, in the extraordinary industry, tranquillity, comfort, security of property, and accumulation of wealth, which since that time had distinguished this beyond any other nation on the face of the earth. But since the year 1795, a practice had arisen subversive of the object, and repugnant even to the letter as well as the spirit of this valuable law—he meant, of course, the allowance system—the practice of paying from the poor-rate money, allowances to labourers who were in the constant employment of private individuals, but who did not receive from their employers sufficient wages to enable them to maintain their families. One effect of this practice was, to enable those employers to lower the wages they chose to give their labourers to any extent, even to the sum which would barely support a single man; the wives and families of married men being supported by the public. By this the unmarried men, and those with small families, suffered cruelly; the wages they received, if employed, being barely enough to maintain them, and even employment being usually denied them, on the plea that being single, "they can live on their wits." The certain result was, a high premium on early marriages and on large families. Every father received 1s. 6d. or 2s. for every child, and his children being provided for by the parish, the wholesome ties of dependence between parents and children were obliterated. The natural bond between master and man was equally annihilated. The labourer paid by the parish, and secure in receiving his allowance proportioned to his family, not to his work, was careless of pleasing his employer. All distinction was destroyed between the idle and the industrious, the prudent and the improvident, and the result was a general demoralization and deterioration of character among the labouring class, which, if not immediately checked by vigorous measures, must speedily produce the most lamentable consequences. The mischiefs of this abominable practice were universally recognized. The Bill before the House most correctly and wisely proposed to put an absolute stop to this practice. Such, at least, was the object of the forty-sixth clause, as it stood in the printed Bill in his hands. The noble Lord, it was true, since the Bill had been in Committee, had intimated that the Government intended to relax this imperative prohibition. He was sorry for it. With the hon. member for London, he had always thought that clause to be the jewel of the Bill. If it stood alone, as the only clause in the Bill, he should say, that its passing would do more to reform the abuses of the Poor-laws, than all the rest of the Bill, or any other measure that could be devised. If the principle of that prohibition were once broken in upon—if the allowance system were permitted to continue in any form, or under any circumstances—he despaired of effectual improvement. When they came to that clause, he would endeavour to persuade the noble Lord to restore it to its original stringency. He was quite prepared to prove, that it might be done with perfect safety. When the allowance system, the main root of all the mischiefs of Poor-law administration, was cut off by express enactment—what would remain to be done, for the execution of which so much new machinery was provided by this Bill? The great difficulty of those who would have to administer the law, would thus be, to deal with the able-bodied poor, who were now working for private parties, having their wages made up from the rates, who, when this partial relief was adopted, must, in case their families were too large to be maintained by the wages which their employers were willing or able to give them, come with those families wholly upon the parish for employment and maintenance. It need not be anticipated that the number of able-bodied applicants for relief would be increased by this change. But their character would be entirely reversed. Instead of the single men, or men with small families, who were now thrown on the parish, because the farmers found it more to their interest to employ the men with large families, the latter would be forced to leave their places, and come upon the parish, which places would be taken by the less-burthened labourers, who would live and support their families on the wages which the farmers could afford to give. The question was, how were these able-bodied labourers, the real surplus—those for whose labour there was no effective demand, consisting (for the most part) of respectable and industrious men, the fathers of large families—to be disposed of? The Poor-law Commissioners, in their Report, recommend that they should be relieved exclusively in well-regulated workhouses? He was sorry to say, that this recommendation destroyed the confidence he should otherwise have been disposed to place in the wisdom, judgment, and sagacity of these learned and eminent Gentlemen. So preposterous a recommendation, he could scarcely have expected to proceed from some juvenile theorist—some raw tyro in political economy, unacquainted with the state of the working classes of England, and the spirit or operation of the Poor-laws, but, disposed to dogmatize on the subject, and eager to administer some universal miracle-working specific, to fit all possible cases; and careless of the cost, the injustice, and the danger of applying his violent and experimental nostrum. He certainly could never have expected such a recommendation to proceed from a body of men of science and ability, such as the Poor-law Commissioners, and as the result of their two years' study of the subject, and their review of the enormous mass of evidence which, during that time, they had collected from every part of the country. Where were the workhouses into which to put all the unemployed able-bodied labourers in the kingdom? As yet there were none at all in nine-tenths of the parishes in England; and those that existed were nearly all full of infirm and impotent poor. Workhouses must be built, therefore. The whole country must be studded with district workhouses, or rather work-gaols; for their management and discipline was to be precisely similar to that of a penitentiary or bridewell. These must be built for the purpose! What a scheme! What a time it must be before these were prepared! Why, long before this was accomplished, either the evils of the Poor-laws would have been cured, and the surplus population, for whom the workhouses were built, be get rid of—or the whole country would have been convulsed and revolutionized! What an expense, too! But further—would it be just, would it be right, would it be safe, to refuse relief and employment, except in a prison, to all those able-bodied men, some of the very best and most industrious workmen of the kingdom, whose only fault was, that their families were very large, which same large families had hitherto been required from them as the very condition of their employment and relief? After encouraging them for years past, to marry and rear large families, by the offer of 1s. 6d. a-head per week for children—after having actually refused employment hitherto to those who had not families—was it just to turn round upon them suddenly and say, "because you have reared these large families, you shall now have no work or maintenance, except you and your families be lodged within the walls, and submit to the irksome restraint, confinement, and degradation of a prison, under the name of a workhouse?" As the sole mode of relieving the able-bodied, this proposition was most cruel, unjust, dangerous, and unwise, and not borne out by the facts adduced by the Commissioners. He had carefully gone through all the cases quoted in the Report as examples of dispauperized parishes, upon the strength of which the recommendation of the Commissioners was grounded. They amounted to seventeen in number; and, in how many out of the seventeen would the Committee suppose, that that principle of the refusal of out-door relief was enforced?—why, only in four out of the seventeen. In twelve cases relief and work were given out of the workhouse. The four cases which alone fell within the rule of the Commissioners, were Uley, Bingham, Southwell, and Llangaddoch; but what conclusion could be drawn from the success of such a system in four insulated cases, as to the probability of its success, if generally enforced through this country? It was quite obvious, that when one single parish increased the strictness of its conduct towards its poor, it might get rid of them, and diminish its rates by driving them out into the neighbouring and less rigorously-managed parishes—a resource which would be wanting if all parishes were to adopt the same system of rigour. Uley, the great example of the success of this system of a workhouse, was a case in point. Mr. Cowell, the Commissioner, who visited it, gave a list of the paupers previously on the parish, and the mode in which they had been disposed of; and from that, it appeared, that more than forty heads of families had been driven by the system to emigrate either to Canada or to parts of England, or had found work in neighbouring parishes; but these avenues would not have been open to them, if all parishes had acted in the same manner as Uley. Except these four solitary instances which proved nothing for or against a general system of workhouse relief; all the other cases of dispauperization quoted by the Commissioners, were brought about by other means, chiefly by the discontinuance of the allowance system, and the enforcement of hard work at low wages, under strict superintendence. This was the principle at Cookham, at Swallowfield, at Hatfield, at Welwyn, at Leckhampstead, at Turton, at Pultney, at Carlisle, at Burghfield, and other places. At Ilfracombe, the mere difference of 2d. a-day, between the pay of the parish and the independent workmen, got rid of all able-bodied applicants. When to these thirteen cases he added upwards of sixty, which were successfully dispauperized, by merely stopping the allowances, and exacting hard work for low pay, without resorting to the workhouse:—when nearly one hundred instances of successful improvement, by this simple process, could be pointed out, and only four of the costly and cruel workhouse schemes, his astonishment at the recommendation of the Commissioners to enforce, in 15,000 parishes,—the severe practice which had hitherto been tried in only four, was extreme. Their recommendation was the more strange, because they themselves, in their Report, declare it to be unnecessary. In page 262, they said, "it is true that nothing is necessary to arrest the progress of pauperism, except that all who receive relief from the parish should work for the parish exclusively, as hard, and for less wages than independent labourers receive. Cases, however, will occur, where such work cannot be obtained, &c. A workhouse meets all cases." To meet a few extreme cases, the same severe and costly remedy was to be applied to all! And yet the Commissioners, in the very same page of the Report, actually say, that "the bane of all pauper legislation has been the legislating for extreme cases." They say this in the same page in which they recommend the universal adoption, throughout England and Wales, of a mode of relief of the most severe, cruel, unjust, and perilous kind; which only four parishes have hitherto ventured upon, and which their own examples and their own admissions declare to be quite unnecessary, in ninety-nine cases out of one hundred. This was legislating for extreme cases with a vengeance. The Bill did not, indeed, go the full length of the recommendation, but it appeared to him to be drawn up entirely in the spirit of that recommendation. All its provisions pointed to the workhouse system, as ultimately to be the only mode of relief; more than twenty clauses related solely to the building and managing of these workhouses; and moreover, the Bill proposed to give the Central Commission the power, if they so choose, of limiting relief to the workhouse the moment the Act had passed. Who the Commissioners might be, it was impossible to predict; but it was not easy to believe, that better men, if other men, would be found to undertake the task than some of the late Poor Law Commissioners; and if they should be appointed, or men imbued with the same doctrines and opinions, was it not to be dreaded that they would attempt to carry into execution their own recommendation? The dread he entertained of the spirit that might animate the Commissioners to whom such enormous powers were to be in-trusted by the Bill, made him hesitate to invest them with that most extraordinary dictatorship. He was not insensible to the advantages of a central and directing Board—for guiding, connecting, and rendering uniform the various local practices of Poor-law administration through the country. He considered this uniformity to be of such extreme importance, that he should be willing to concede much to obtain it. But, in the other clauses of the Bill, besides those which created and empowered the Commission, he was struck by features of a formidable character. He saw phrases employed of a doubtful construction, but which might, and perhaps would, be construed as repealing every statute whatever, concerning relief, or at least putting it in the power of the Commissioners, or of the guardians of parishes to act in direct opposition to those statutes, and to nullify them entirely. He saw multiplied provisions and contrivances, to check the expenditure of parish money—to prevent the worthless and undeserving pauper from imposing on the parish. But he saw, as it appeared to him, all security removed for the relief of the deserving pauper. He asked this question,—after the Bill was passed, what security would remain to the poor man in distress? He would have none at all. At present he applied to the neighbouring justice, who was empowered to order relief, and experience had shown that this was ample security; that power was abolished by the Bill, and vestries were left to give or refuse relief as they pleased. In the case of large towns, where the vestry consisted of respect- able persons, their power would not probably be abused; but, in the rural districts, where vestries consisted of flinty-hearted and bargain-driving farmers, insolvent-struggling men, perhaps, whose first and only object was to save their pence, and grind down the labouring poor in order to hire their labour at the cheapest rate,—to allow such vestries to refuse relief altogether to any pauper, without appeal, was to annul the Poor-laws altogether. In this case it would be a contest among such parishes which should soonest get rid of their poor, and of their rates, by excessive severity. What remedy was left to a pauper in such circumstances?—to apply to the Metropolitan Commissioners! He might as well be told to apply to the Great Mogul, to indict the parish at Quarter Sessions!—as well tell him to bring his complaint before the Emperor of China! It was quite clear, that, to leave the pauper no accessible tribunal of appeal, was to deprive him altogether of his security for relief—of his right to it in a case of real distress—a right, be it remembered, which he had enjoyed for two centuries and a-half—a right, older and stronger, and holier by far, because more directly based on the first principles of justice, humanity, and Christian duty, than the titles to half the estates in this kingdom. The Bill seemed to him to repeal the 43rd of Elizabeth, as well as every succeeding Act, and to place the lives and securities of the poor of this kingdom at the disposal of three Commissioners. The 47th clause repealed the 36th George 3rd, 55th George 3rd, and 59th George 3rd; that was to say, all those Acts, or parts of those Acts, by which Magistrates were empowered to order relief to poor persons out of the workhouse. It did not, it was true, repeal the 3rd and 4th William and Mary, nor any part of the 9th George 1st, under both of which justices had power to order relief to poor persons, though not out of the workhouse; but the 48th clause of this Bill took away all power of ordering relief from every party but the guardians, vestries, or boards, in parishes having select vestries. There would remain, after the passing of this Bill in its present shape, a power lodged in justices to order relief to poor persons only in such parishes as were not joined in unions under this Act, and had not select vestries; but as the Commissioners would speedily join all parishes in unions, when that was done, the power of the Magistrates to order relief would cease; and the giving and withholding relief, in all cases, would be entirely optional with the guardians, vestries, and boards, of the parishes or unions. This was a great and serious alteration in the machinery of the Poor-laws. For nearly 300 years, the Justices had had the power to compel parishes to relieve their poor. The 5th Elizabeth, gave them that power. It was confirmed by the 14th, the 39th, and the 43rd Elizabeth—by the 3rd and 4th William and Mary, the 9th George 1st, the 36th George 3rd, the 55th and 59th George 3rd; and in no case, and at no time, repealed or interfered with, except by the limitation already adverted to, of the 9th George 1st, confining relief to workhouses at the discretion of parishes, (which limitation was repealed by the subsequent Acts, the 36th, 55th, and 59th George 3rd). It was now proposed, therefore, in an indirect manner, to remove that security which, for more than two centuries and a-half, the poor of England had enjoyed, and under which the country had reaped the advantages of freedom from mendicancy and vagrancy,—of a tranquillity and security of property unexampled in the history of nations. And what was it proposed to substitute for this ancient, legal, authorized security for the existence of the poor? Nothing! All that would remain was a power in parishes acting through guardians, vestries, and boards, at their option to relieve or not!—they were freed from all compulsion—for even the Commissioners were prohibited from ordering relief by their Assistants. The right of the poor man to be relieved by his parish was effectually taken away by this Bill,—a right expressly recognized in words by the 9th George 1st and the 36th George 3rd; and, in place of it, he was left unconditionally, and at the mercy, and to the voluntary charity, of his parish, or the union of his and other parishes, whilst even their voluntary charity was liable to be controlled and impeded, and forbidden by the Central Commissioners. But was that right? Was it just? Was it safe? At a time when the vested interest of worthless pensioners of high rank on the public purse was recognized by Parliament as a sacred title—was the same Parliament prepared to abrogate, at a word, the legal and ancient title of the poor to existence?—a title 300 years old, as old, as legal, as fully recognized in Acts of Parliament, as the title of the wealthiest noble to his estate, and founded on still more evident principles of justice and truth! If so, the title to any estate was worth but a very few months' purchase. On these grounds, although he had not opposed the appointment of the central Commission,—though he did not mean to oppose the granting to them large discretionary powers for regulating and directing the administration of the Poor-law,—still he would not consent to give them a power to supersede, override, nullify, and repeal, by their mere breath, every act, fragment, and letter of the Poor-laws. Neither would he consent, by any other clauses or parts of this Bill, to repeal and nullify the ancient, equitable, legal right and title of the poor to relief in cases of necessity. Neither would he consent to empower either the Commissioners or Boards of Guardians to imprison, without offering them any other alternative, all such able-bodied poor as were prevented, through no fault of their own, but the pressure of the times, from finding employment. In order to secure this much at least of what he considered to be strictly demanded by right and justice, for the poor of the land, he intended to move the resolutions he held in his hand. He knew, that it was distasteful to many to hear of "the rights of the poor" to relief, or their title to be saved from starving. Even many most amiable and benevolent individuals had fallen into the error, as he conceived it, of denying the existence of any such rights as founded in natural justice. That these were some of the first and primary rights of every member of a civilized and law-governed community, was, he thought, most easy to prove; but it was sufficient for him to show the long existence of the legal right and title of the poor in this country to relief. This, at least, could not be disputed, because it was expressly stated in the letter of repealed Acts of Parliament;—had received the sanction of the practice of ages, and the express and repeated recognition of the highest authorities in Courts of Law. This legal right, therefore, could not be denied: and would the House, he asked, refuse to acknowledge it, while passing an Act which, without such acknowledgment, went virtually to annul it? He put it to the House as a matter of policy—the right of the poor to relief, being, instead of a thing that ought to be spoken of only in a whisper, and never recognized in acts, nor declared in conversation, a principle, the recognition of which was at the very bottom of the right to landed property, and the corner-stone of social order,—whether it would endanger all by denying the right of the poor? The more openly the right of the poor to existence, and consequently to relief, when their existence was endangered for want of it, was acknowledged, the more certainly did they bind the poor to entertain a love for the law which protected them, a respect for the property on which they were allowed a lien in case of urgent necessity;—the more certainly would the House confirm the tranquillity, peace, and order of society, which could not exist where the mass of the people had no security for their existence. Remove the security which the people of England had enjoyed for centuries under the paternal shade of the Poor-laws; and either the just indignation of this class, at the shameless contempt shown of their legal and ancient rights, would speedily bring on a desolating convulsion, uprooting the whole framework of society from its foundations; or if the courage and the combination be wanted among that class, the country would speedily be converted into the same state as Ireland, where bands of vagrants wandered about the country, destroying the security of property, driving capital from the land, and putting an end to the peace, comfort, and happiness of all classes of the people. The country would be exposed to insurrectionary violence, and it would be found too late, that, by depriving the poor of their rights, the property of the rich, as well as their security, would be destroyed. There would then come a termination to the prosperity and greatness of England. The hon. Gentleman concluded, by moving, "That it be an instruction to the Committee on the Poor-laws' Amendment Bill, to preserve inviolate the right, to which the poor of England have been entitled for centuries past tinder various Acts of Parliament, to be relieved when in a state of destitution by and at the cost of the parishes in which they may be legally settled; as well as the right of every individual to receive immediate relief in the extremity of distress from the overseers of the parish in which he may happen to be at the time, whether having a settlement therein or not."
intimated to the hon. Member, that it was usual to move an instruction only in cases where it was desired to enable the Committee to do something which it could not do without such instruction. In the present instance, it was clearly within the power of the Committee to carry into effect the objects of the proposed instruction; and the hon. Member, therefore, need not move it unless he meant to imply a doubt as to the Committee properly discharging its duty.
said, it was far from his intention to do anything not conformable to the regulations of the House, and he would therefore endeavour to effect his object by proposing specific clauses on the subject in Committee, or on the third reading of the Bill.
expressed his concurrence generally in the sentiments of the hon. member for Stroud, and advised him to bring up the clauses of which he had spoken on the third reading of the bill, in order that an opportunity for an ample discussion of them might be afforded.
thought the hon. Gentleman who had just addressed the House was mistaken in saying, that the plan was new. A report on the subject of the Poor-laws was presented many years ago to Parliament, on which Gilbert's bill (22nd George 3rd) was founded. With the exception of the establishment of the Central Board, the recommendations of that Report were precisely similar to the enactments of the present Bill, the only difference being that its application was voluntary instead of being compulsory. His object in rising, however, was to remind the noble Lord (Althorp) that he had stated that the Bill before the House would have the effect of giving relief to the agricultural interest. But he was sure that it would not give them what their depressed state required—immediate relief; for the clause with respect to the allowance system was not to come into operation until next year, and a considerable time must, of course, elapse before the new workhouses could be built. He thought, however, he could suggest a provision, to be incorporated with the present measure, which would have the effect of giving immediate relief to the agricultural interest. He understood that the main objection entertained to the Bill before the House, was founded on the entire control which it gave to persons not contributing to the support of the poor over the funds collected for that purpose, neither the rate-payers nor their representatives being allowed to interfere in their management. He also understood that the great burthen which pressed on the agriculturists was local taxation. He would therefore suggest, that as the Government proposed to take into their own hands, through the commissioners, the management of the poor, they should also take upon themselves the maintenance of the poor. Local taxation would then entirely cease, and the poor would be supported out of the general taxation of the country. He believed, that if his proposition were carried into effect, it would be attended with beneficial results, both in a pecuniary and moral point of view; for by relieving the farmer of a portion of his burthens, and by promoting a feeling of independence and self-esteem in the mind of the labourer, it would draw more closely those ties which ought for ever to bind together the labourer, the farmer, and the landowner.
observed, with no surprise, that the hon. Baronet had proposed to maintain the poor out of the Consolidated Fund. He had always thought it would come to this. One step further the hon. Baronet might go, and one only, and that was, to charge the Government with the keeping of all the people. When the hon. Baronet talked of local taxation, he seemed to think, that the farmer paid the rates out of his own pocket, out of some store; but it was no such thing. He paid the rates out of the price of his wheat and corn that he carried to market. The farmer paid no more of the rates than other people, and he would be no more relieved than other people by the system that the hon. Baronet recommended. The Poor-rates were already diffused all over the country, and the farmer's rates were paid by those who consumed the produce of his farm. In many respects the present Bill could not be carried into effect, and therefore, in passing it, the House would in fact be passing no law at all. If the Bill could reduce the amount of rates, that, at least, must be a work of time, and the expenses of erecting workhouses in the first instance would be very great. He was glad to hear the hon. member for Stroud contend for the rights of the poor. Those rights ought to be the basis of the Bill itself, and it ought to recognise those rights. The hon. member for Marylebone had said, that what the poor received of their parishes was of the nature of alms or charity, but everybody knew or ought to know, that the right of the English poor to relief in cases of indigence was as sound and as good a right as that of any gentleman or nobleman to the possession of his lands. It was their right by law, founded in nature and on the principles of civil society; and if this were not a right, what right, then, had they to call on the poor to become militiamen to defend their estates, those lands on which they could not come for relief, even in cases of starvation? A noble Lord in another place had said, that he would bring in a Bill to alter the Poor-laws; but, after a Session or two had passed, he thought it prudent to appoint a Poor-law Commission, and this was the history of the present Bill. That noble Lord had said, that the principles of Malthus were sound and just, and that he would defend them to the utmost extent. Now, what were the principles of Malthus, but to deny relief to the poor altogether? Malthus had proposed that an Act should pass saying, that if the poor married after the passing of that Act, the consequences should be entirely their own. He said to the poor, "There is no relief for you, no relief at all; at nature's board there is no seat for you." It was imprudent in him to refer to the law of nature. If he told the poor to rely on nature, the poor had strength, they had power, they would take, and would not go to ask relief from parish officers. They would go and take the nearest to their hands, and all that they liked the best. The law of England had said, that if a man were in want of food, or the means of sustaining life, he had a right to take it wherever he could find it. Gentlemen might laugh, but he said again, that it was the law of England. Blackstone and Hale contended, that men in England had no right to take the property of others under any circumstances. They had quoted civilians to show, that men in a state of destitution, in want of sustenance, had a right to seize it wherever they could lay hands upon it; but then they maintained that, in England, no such right could exist, because parish officers were always at hand to afford relief. If parish officers, therefore, were not at hand, the right of nature to take would return. Gentlemen were angry with the poor because the Poor-rates were so high; but had they a right to call on the poor to defend their estates whilst they were told that even whilst starving they had no right to relief? By the present Bill three extraordinary gentlemen, perhaps from Scotland—perhaps, for what he knew, from Hanover—were to take the management of the poor from the hands of the gentry, and to destroy the powers of the local magistracy. Where was there any limit to the powers of the Commissioners? These Commissioners were to say, that relief was to be denied to labouring men, unless they were placed within the walls of a workhouse. Suppose a hardworking, honest man was to break his leg in his master's service, would they take that man from his wife and children, from his little cottage, and put him into a workhouse? If they passed such a Bill he did not believe, that the Lords could be brought to pass it. But the poor had ailments of various sorts, and great numbers, before the age of forty, were victims to the rheumatism. Were such men to be taken to the workhouse? No; he did not believe, that the noble Lord could intend any thing of the sort, and such a law never could be carried into execution.
denied, that the poor had a right to seize upon the property of others to supply their wants. All the rights the poor now possessed were preserved to them by the present Bill, and the objections to the Bill on that ground were unfounded. The Bill did not, as had been erroneously represented, go to the extent of saying that no relief should be given out of the workhouse. The object of the Bill was to bring the law back to what it was originally, and what it ought to be; but it was by no means the wish of his Majesty's Government to have the Poor-laws done away with.
did not concur with the noble Lord, that the Poor-laws were an evil, as the noble Lord had described them. He agreed with the hon. member for Oldham, that the laws of nature and the laws of England were identical, and that every man had a right to live by the fruits of his honest labour. The man who applied himself to honest labour, and by that means was willing and able to earn his bread, had a better right to support than the noble Lord had to the hat on his head, or the coat on his back. It was not the pressure of the Poor-laws that was so oppressive and burthensome on the people. No; it was the cursed Currency Bill, which was nothing less than a barefaced fraud upon the country. The interest of the National Debt was more than six times a greater burthen on the country than the Poor-laws. For his part he had never yet heard out of that House a single complaint against the Poor-laws in his life. He would repeat that he never had. In his own parish, at Birmingham, although he never interfered in parish matters, he knew that they came last year to a resolution to do away with the workhouse altogether, as a more expensive mode of providing for the support of the poor than paying them out of doors. It was found that 2s. 6d. given to afford out-of-door relief went further than 4s. would go in the workhouse. The whole of the Bill he looked upon as founded in error, and the details were so monstrous that he was convinced the whole power of Parliament would never be able to carry it into effect. The House went into Committee. The 13th Clause having been read, which provides, that the power of affording relief to the poor shall be placed in the hands of the Commissioners,
rose to bring forward an Amendment to that clause of which he had given notice. He considered that the principle on which his Majesty's Government and that House would be disposed to legislate on the subject at present under discussion was, that the local authorities of the country should have their powers as little infringed upon as possible. The noble Lord admitted that, and had declared, that he was not disposed to give one iota more of power to the Commissioners than was necessary to carry into effect the provisions of the Bill. He would show, that the Commissioners ought not to have the power to frame rules and regulations without the consent of the parochial authorities, or of the rate-payers of the parish; and he was sure, that the Amendment he was about to propose would tend to increase rather than to diminish the efficacy of the Central Board. There was nothing in the Bill to carry it into effect, and his Amendment would go to remedy that defect in the most satisfactory manner. If the Commissioners, instead of being nine in number, were multiplied to nine times nine, it would be impossible for them to carry the Bill into effect in all the parishes of the kingdom, without the aid of the local authorities; and the only way in which the cordial assistance of the local authorities could be hoped for would be, to give them the power of co-operating with the Commissioners in making rules and regulations for the government of their respective parishes. They would then be more ready to give effect to the provisions of the Bill than if they were forced to agree to the arbitrary regulations of the Commissioners alone." In all those parishes where the affairs were already well managed and good regulations established, the Commissioners would not be disposed to act at all, or to extend their interference; but in those parishes where bad management was notorious, and where the rates had been increased, even on the rack-rent, it must be admitted by all, that some interference was absolutely necessary, for otherwise the whole property of those parishes would be swallowed up by the poor-rates at no very distant time. The best way to correct the evil of such mismanagement would be to have all orders and regulations brought into operation with the concurrence of the local authorities and the voluntary act of the rate-payers themselves. Thus, only, in his judgment, could the law under this Bill he wisely and justly administered. The amendment would further provide, that in all the badly-regulated parishes, if the local authorities refused for twelve months to aid the Commissioners in framing new orders and rules, and thus obstructed the working of the Bill, it would be in the power of the Commissioners to apply to Parliament, on the petition of the majority of the rate-payers of each parish, for a specific Act to enforce the provisions of the Bill; so that, in the end, the result sought for would be the same; but this proceeding would have the satisfactory effect of reconciling the minds of the people to the changes made in the law. He also intended, that petitioners should be heard by counsel, if they thought fit, on any application to Parliament, for a constraining Act, so that no rules or regulations should be forced upon them without a full hearing being given to their objections against them. It might be urged as an objection to part of his amendment, that it went to the possible enactment of 16,000 Acts of Parliament, one for each parish in England. This was, however, an erroneous view of the case, for 8,000 parishes, half of the list, must be struck out, and, of the other half, be did not think that many would be found to resist pertinaciously the forming proper regulations for the management of their affairs; so that, in fact, very few Acts would be found necessary; and, moreover, if this were found to be an inconvenience, it would be very easy to lump several parishes into one Act. But, even supposing that some inconvenience were to arise, what would that be as compared with the great advantage of popularizing the Bill, and framing it so as to work with the aid and concurrence of the people for whom it was intended? A good system of local government he looked upon to be the perfection of all government; for if the various branches of the body politic were not kept in a wholesome and well-regulated state, it would not be possible to preserve, for any length of time, the vital principle unimpaired. As he was desirous, therefore, to interfere as little as possible with the influence which the local authorities of the country ought to possess, he should propose, as an amendment, "That no rules or regulations, framed by the Commissioners, should be binding on any parish without the concurrence of the majority of the rate-payers."
The Committee has not come to the part of the clause when the amendment or amendments of the hon. and gallant Member can be submitted to the Committee.
Colonel Torrens, on this representation, postponed his Amendment, and a lengthened conversation took place on the clause. All which seemed important is preserved in the following passages:
must protest against the power given to the Commissioners by this clause as perfectly monstrous. It gave them the power of making and unmaking laws at their pleasure. He thought that the powers given to the Commissioners would be much limited by letting the clause run, "the administration of the laws for the relief of the poor," instead of "administration of relief to the poor."
objected to the wording of the clause. It was so obscurely drawn up, that it must involve the country in endless confusion and litigation. Why should the House delegate to unknown Commissioners the power of making laws, which hitherto it had exercised itself. If the Commissioners were to make rules and regulations contrary to the existing laws, there was no court of appeal to which any of his Majesty's subjects could apply for redress. Suppose they were to make regulations contrary to the 43rd of Elizabeth, the 17th of George 2nd, or any other act, local or general, under the existing law, a certiorari might be moved for in the King's Bench; and if the regulations were illegal, the court would have no hesitation about quashing them. But, by this Bill, the power of moving for a certiorari was taken away, and the subject was left with no mode of obtaining redress, except by a direct appeal to that House. He contended, that the Legislature ought not to be called upon to explain the law; that was a duty which belonged to the judicial, and not to the executive government. He put it to the noble Lord distinctly thus:—"Is it the intention of the Government to give these Commissioners the power of making and unmaking laws?" If it were, let the House know it at once, and then he should be prepared to oppose the Bill. But if such were not the intention of the Government, let the clause be so worded, as to make that intention clear.
said, that there was no intention of giving the Commissioners powers either to make new, or to alter the existing laws.
expressed a hope, that the noble Lord would assure the Committee, that the Commissioners should not be hampered in dealing generally with this subject by the regulations or acts prevailing in certain local districts. Did the hon. and learned member for Norwich mean to say, that this clause gave the Commissioners the power of dispensing with the laws? Any lawyer who said so might understand the law, but certainly could not understand the English language. The words of the clause only gave the Commissioners the power of administering the existing laws of England.
complained of the manner in which the noble Lord was conducting this Bill. It was impossible to learn what the noble Lord meant to do with any clause. This Bill repealed 200 Acts of Parliament. He stated positively, that this clause gave the Commissioners power to interfere with various local Acts, and to repeal all the select vestries which were established at present.
said, there were provisions in this Act which enabled the Commissioners to deal with certain laws—local Acts, for instance; but the question was, whether the Commissioners were to have the power of abrogating the acts of the Legislature. It appeared to him, that the Commissioners were not authorised to exercise any such power, but that there were parts of the Bill by which they might deal with private Acts.
observed, that the clause gave the Commissioners power to suspend, alter, or rescind rules, orders, and regulations, for the management of the poor, and for the administration of the laws for their relief; and, in another clause, it was provided, that by-laws made under any local Act were to be subject to the confirmation of the Board. Now, he intended to leave out the latter words, so that the powers of the Commissioners would be confined to making or altering rules for the management and relief of the poor, and not extend to "any local Act," as specified in the sixteenth clause.
said, it was complained, that no sufficient remedy was afforded for any violation of the law under this Act; but it appeared to him, that the Bill itself provided every possible precaution against violations of the law, especially when it was considered that all rules must be submitted to the Secretary of State, and afterwards to Parliament. With reference to what had fallen from the hon. and learned member for Norwich, he maintained, that the object of the present clause was to give the Commissioners power to make rules for the relief of the poor, and the power which they were to exercise was particularly specified. Where existing Acts were to be interfered with, a specific power was given for that purpose; and therefore the present clause did not convey a general power. Much of the evil that existed in the administration of the Poor-laws, consisted in discretionary departures from the provisions of the law. The object of this measure was, to remedy the evils, and substitute one general authority for all the existing local authorities.
said, that it was the duty of Parliament to take care that the principle of the Poor-laws should not only be set right, and adjusted on satisfactory grounds, but that the execution and administration of the law should be placed on a good footing. The present clause was one of the highest importance, and it was extremely desirable to ascertain unequivocally what interpretation was to be put on the first paragraph of this most important clause. The question was, whether the Bill gave the Commissioners a legislative, or only judicial and administrative power? He thought it could not be seriously intended to give them a legislative power—if not, the Bill could only confer a judicial or administrative authority. But was it not against all precedent, and contrary to common sense, to give to those who were to execute the laws powers couched in language so loose and indeterminate, that it was difficult to ascertain what was the actual intention of the legislature? The subject was evidently involved in difficulty, owing to the wording of the clause, but it was the duty of the House to take care to render its language so clear, that no administrative power should be able to plead the excuse of doubt or ambiguity for its possible ignorance or deviation from the law. He begged the attention of the Committee to the clause, which ran in these terms:—"And be it further enacted, that from and after the passing of this Act, the administration of relief to the poor throughout England and Wales shall be subject to the direction and control of the said Commissioners." A question was asked, whether this power was meant to be confined to the administration of relief to the poor; to which question no direct answer was given, from which he inferred that it was not convenient to give such an answer. If the meaning of the Act was, that the Commissioners should be only empowered to administer the Poor-laws, why not state the fact in express terms? It should not be left to a Court of Justice hereafter to define the meaning of the Act and the powers of the Commissioners. The difficulty should not be left to be remedied by those to whom was merely intrusted an administrative power, which, as he conceived, must be all that it was intended to confer upon the Commissioners. It was due to the public (if the House did not mean to give the Board a power beyond the law) that the clause should be so framed that all parties could understand it. He thought it was absolutely necessary, if the first paragraph of this clause was to be allowed to stand, that the House should define the power conferred by it in language which could be generally understood. If objections were made to altering the paragraph, it would be better to take it out altogether. Unless some such course were taken, the measure, instead of being useful to the public, would be attended with the utmost uncertainty and confusion; a matter which was of the more consequence as it related to a subject so important, and to a new jurisdiction, over which nobody but Parliament itself could exercise any efficient control.
suggested, that words should be added to make the Commissioners act according to the existing laws.
observed, that the words of the clause stated, that the administration of the relief of the poor remaining in the hands in which it was placed at present should be subject to the control of the Commissioners. It was the principle of the Bill that the administration of the relief of the poor should be under the control of the Commissioners; but it was not the principle of the Bill that they should administer the law themselves. He did not mean that the clause should give them a legislative power further than the Bill specifically stated it to be given them. He should have no objection to the introduction of words to the effect suggested by the hon. and learned member for Norwich.
said, that there was a very simple mode of proceeding if any rule made by the Commissioners were considered of an improper nature, namely, a petition to the Privy Council. It was no new thing for the Privy Council to exercise a judicial control over rules and regulations of a similar nature. When it was considered, that the power of the Commissioners would be subject also to the further control of Parliament, he thought there was a sufficient security for the propriety of their regulations.
observed, that the Bill contained no provision empowering parties to appeal to the Privy Council.
said, that no such provision was necessary. As the King in Council was to give force to the rules and regulations of the Commissioners, it was competent to any person who felt aggrieved by them to appeal against them.
said, he had no doubt that the declarations made by the noble Lord (Lord Althorp) would be satisfactory to the public—namely, that the Commissioners were not to possess a legislative power to abrogate any law which was not specifically repealed by the Act, and that the only power really transferred to them, was that now exercised by the local Magistracy. With respect to the Amendment, he would remind the Committee that they were legislating for overseers, and persons of not very cultivated minds, and therefore it would be well that the Act were made explicit and intelligible. He could see harm in the introduction of the word proposed. With respect to the power of appeal to the Privy Council, it was very well that such a power should exist; but it would be better to frame the law so that it would not be necessary to have recourse to it.
contended, that Gentlemen had not defined what they meant by legislative powers, or precisely limited the authority of the Commissioners. They only declared, that the Board should not abrogate or change existing laws; but he submitted, that it was not precluded from making new laws relative to the education of the children of the poor, in reference to emigration, or upon any subject which did not come within the range of existing Statutes. This being the case, the Commissioners would have the power of framing such laws as were not in contravention of existing Acts, but which new regulations or laws would, nevertheless, be binding on the poor, though not made by Parliament.
was surprised that the noble Lord, and the hon. and learned member for Malton, who disclaimed any intention of conferring on the Commissioners a power to abrogate existing laws or frame new ones, should hesitate about rendering the clause distinct and explicit on that subject. The Amendment proposed by Sir James Scarlett, limiting the powers of the Commissioners to act according to existing laws, was agreed to. The Amendment above-mentioned, moved by Colonel Torrens, and then postponed, was put to the vote, and read as follows:—"That the rules, orders, and regulations issued by the Commissioners shall not take effect in any parish, unless the same shall be approved of by the majority of the owners of property or ratepayers in the said parish; provided always that if two-thirds of the rate-payers and owners of property in a parish shall for twelve mouths continue to disallow the rules and regulations proposed by the Commissioners, the Law Officers of the Crown shall be directed to bring in a Special Bill to enforce the said rules and regulations in the said dissenting parishes; and that the said dissenting parishes shall be allowed to be heard by counsel in support of their objections."
observed, that one great object of the present Bill was, to introduce a new and altered mode of managing the poor in the various parishes throughout the country, but if the Amendment proposed by the hon. Gentleman—namely, that no alteration should be introduced, unless approved of by the different parishes where it was to take effect—should be adopted, the effect of it would be to leave them precisely in the state in which they were at present. The present mode of managing the poor was, it was obvious, adopted in all parishes according to the choice, the very ill-advised choice, he thought, in many instances, of such parishes. The result, therefore, of such art Amendment as the present was, that it would entirely abrogate the provisions of the present Bill, for if it were left to parishes to adopt it, they of course would adhere to their present, in many cases (such as in the south of England), most ill-advised system of managing the poor. The second portion of the hon. Member's Amendment enacted, that in case parishes did not adopt the rules, Bills for enforcing the same should be brought in by the Law Officers of the Crown. He knew of no similar provision ever before contained in an Act of Parliament, and, if it were to he introduced, the hon. Member ought to go further, and say, that Parliament should pass such Bills.
said, that though he objected to many of the powers proposed to be given to the Central Board, he could not assent to an Amendment that would strike radically at the whole principle of the Bill.
said, that the noble Lord had declared that the adoption of this amendment would destroy the operation of the Bill; but, if fairly viewed, it would be seen, that it would have no such effect. The noble Lord admitted, that pa- rishes in the north of England were well administered, and did not require this Bill; but then, the noble Lord added, that the parishes in the south of England were not well administered, and that they would not adopt the rules proposed by the Commissioners. Now, surely, if the Commissioners should propose rules, that experience had proved had worked advantageously in diminishing the rates elsewhere, it was but right to assume that the parishes in the south of England would adopt them. He (Colonel Torrens) entirely approved of the principle of the Bill; but he thought that the working of it should be more connected with popular co-operation, in order to remove the existing jealousy and apprehension on the subject. An alteration in the Bill to that effect would remove the jealousy which was entertained with regard to it, especially in the large towns. If popular rights were more respected in the Bill, he was sure that the measure would be approved of by the country at large.
The Amendment was negatived.
On the remainder of the clause being put,
objected to conferring upon the Commissioners such great powers as were contained in the provisions of the Bill, without the check which would be afforded by the continuance of the power to issue writs of certiorari to remove any decision under the rules, orders, or regulations of the Commissioners into a Court of Record, with a view to a legal adjudication. The power intrusted by this Bill to the proposed Commissioners was infinite, and it was possible that rules, orders, or regulations might be issued by that body which would, when brought into operation, be inconsistent with the existing laws. The only check or remedy against such inconsistencies was by the removal by writ of certiorari of the proceedings into the Court of King's Bench—a tribunal which regulated the proceedings of all courts of inferior jurisdiction. Such jurisdiction over the acts of these Commissioners ought to be preserved, or there would be no security to parties most deeply interested. Conceiving that such power would be well reserved to the Court of King's Bench, he should move that the words at the latter end of the clause, "that no general rule, order, or regulation shall be removed or removable by writ of certiorari or otherwise into any of his Majesty's Courts of Record be omitted.
was understood to concur with the hon. and learned Gentleman that it would be most advantageous that a controlling power should exist upon points of law, but in the present case he thought great inconvenience might arise from the recourse to writs of certiorari. To remedy such inconveniences the words at the end of the clause had been inserted, because the rules of the Commissioners were not intended to apply to individual parishes, but to regulate the proceedings of all the parishes in England and Wales. This had been done to meet the apprehensions that scarcely a single rule or order could he published without some individual parish applying for a writ of certiorari against it.
said, that if it could be thought that any rule would be made by the Commissioners which would call fur a writ of certiorari, it was proper for the Legislature to stop before it conferred the power to make these rules and orders. It appeared to him, that all inferior officers, whether belonging to municipal or other corporations, ought to be amenable for their acts to the authority of a jurisdiction such as the Court of King's Bench. In the present case, though it was true that the rules, &c., were to be submitted to the Privy Council before brought into operation, yet the time allowed between their publication and being brought into force was insufficient to put the public, most to be affected with their details or provisions, on their guard. Under such circumstances, he contended, that the writ of certiorari should be still open to the parties aggrieved or otherwise.
said, that the suggestion of the hon. and learned member for Norwich was of weight and deserving consideration, and he should wish it to be postponed. At the same time he thought the difficulties which had been suggested would be met by the insertion of a clause he proposed to move, that all rules, orders, and regulations issued and published by the Commissioners, should be presented by one of the Secretaries of State to both Houses of Parliament within one week from the commencement of each Session. Amendment withdrawn, and the clause as amended with the reservation of the concluding sentence, agreed to. The other Clauses to the 19th with verbal amendments, were agreed to. On Clause 19 being put from the Chair,
objected to the power proposed to be given by it to the Commissioners, to expend a tenth of the parish funds whether the parishes liked it or not. That would give them an uncontrolled power over nearly 1,000,000l. He objected also to the large stuns which might be levied in particular parishes under this clause, and maintained, that there was not a parish in the country which had not some building already erected that would answer the purposes of a workhouse.
was willing to remove that objection of the hon. Member which related to the amount of money to be levied in any particular parish, by limiting the amount to 50l., where a tenth of the annual rate would exceed that sum. Where it did not go beyond that amount, a tenth of the annual rate would of course be levied. With regard to the powers to make alterations in workhouses given to the Commissioners, they would not in most cases be applied beyond putting a lock on a door, or perhaps building up a small wall, or incurring some other trifling expense of that kind. He trusted the hon. Member would not obstinately resist the power of making such alterations being given to the Commissioners.
Clause, with Amendments agreed to as was the 20th clause. The House resumed, the Committee to sit again.