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Collection Of Rates

Volume 49: debated on Wednesday 31 July 1839

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Lord J. Russell moved the second reading of the Collection of Rates Bill.

could not give his support to the measure in its present form. He was willing to give the boards of guardians necessary power to enable them to collect rates for the relief of the poor, but it was unfair to furnish them with greater powers over overseers than those which overseers possessed against ratepayers. Equal powers to boards of guardians and to overseers he was ready to concede, but nothing more. In the noble Lord's Bill power was given to boards of guardians to issue distress warrants against refractory overseers. But it should be recollected, that boards of guardians were partly composed of magistrates, and therefore facilities were afforded to proceed against overseers. If the bill were to remain in its present form, he should object to it in toto, and it should have his strongest opposition. He should have no objection to consent to the second reading, on the understanding that what he had suggested should have proper consideration in Committee.

Sir, the bon. Gentleman does not seem to object to vest suffi- cient powers in time boards of guardians when necessary to enable them to collect rates for the relief of the poor. The hon. Gentleman knows there is at present a board of guardians so situated, that they cannot obtain from the overseers the money which is absolutely necessary, and they are in this difficulty, that they have imposed upon them by law the duty of providing for the relief of the poor, and yet the law does not furnish them with power to obtain money from the overseers. The hon. Gentleman allows there is a necessity for such a power in particular cases as the bill proposes to give, and, with regard to his suggestions, I am quite ready to consider in Committee whether it be such an amendment of the bill as will not interfere with its working. The hon. Gentleman must, however, see, if a clause were introduced into the bill by which legal questions could be raised—questions which might possibly be postponed for a year or a year and a half before a decision is obtained—that the bill would become totally inefficient as a remedy; for, it must be obvious, that the poor could not wait while the questions were under discussion. Whatever amendments the hon. Gentleman chooses to propose, I hope they will not be such as will destroy the efficiency of the bill, or impair the object for which it is introduced. The boards of guardians are placed in this situation—duties are imposed upon them by an Act of Parliament, but there is no power to enable them to carry the law into effect.

objected to give to boards of guardians the power of issuing warrants of distress against overseers. He objected likewise to the mode in which the collectors were appointed, and as he could neither agree in the principle of the bill nor in its details, he should move that it be read a second time that day three months.

seconded the amendment. He did not see why this question, as to the collection of the poor-rates, should not be deferred till next year, when the noble Lord had intimated his intention of bringing the whole subject of the Poor-laws under the consideration of the House. He must say also, that he saw no reason why the guardians should have the powers which the bill gave them over the overseers. But there was another objection to the measure. The second clause was abstracted in the margin thus:—"Order for appointing collectors declared valid;" and the clause began, "And be it declared and enacted," as if the Act was a declaratory Act, and the law stood now as it would stand when the Act passed. But the Court of Queen's Bench had decided, that the appointment of a collector was not vested in the guardians, so that the House was called upon to declare that to be law which was not law. Before also the House declared, that all orders issued by the Poor-law Commissioners should be valid, they ought to know what those orders were. He had moved for a return of those orders, which had not yet been furnished, and this was in his mind a sufficient reason why the bill should not now be read a second time.

could not oppose the second reading of the bill, because it did not take the collection of rates from the local authorities. If they threw upon the guardians the burthen of relieving and helping the poor, it was necessary to give them the power of getting the means of doing so. He did not think the bill would be effective in its present state, but he trusted that alterations would be made in Committee.

said, the bill was so objectionable, that he hoped it would be rejected. The hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets objected to the measure; but, he hoped, that certain amendments would be made. That was the way they were everlastingly going on. When a bill of this kind was once read a second time, it was easily passed through Committee, and became the law of the land. He agreed with his hon. Colleague, in thinking that no bill honestly framed would ever emanate from Somerset-House. The powers of the Poor-law commissioners were enormous, and the present bill was as violent a coercion bill against a certain class of men as was ever framed. This was a bill of pains and penalties against those officers who resisted the introduction of the Poor-law Amendment Act. What pretence was there for introducing a law of this description into parishes in which parishioners were content with the present mode of management? The bill gave the commissioners the most extraordinary powers. In particular, the third clause was most objectionable. It was very specious in appearance, but he would tell the House to ask the Poor-law commissioners what power they would actually acquire by it? In less than three years, by the clause in question, the commissioners would obtain the entire control and collection of the poor-rates. It was declared, too, that all orders from the 6th of May last were to be deemed valid, no matter how illegal or now unconstitutional, or how much against the feelings of the people—all those orders were to have the same force and effect as the laws of the realm. It was a most extraordinary proposition to make to a deliberative assembly, and yet it had been made, by the noble Lord in his bill. As the noble Lord had promised to introduce a poor-law measure next Session, the present bill ought to be deferred to that period. It was, in his judgment, dangerous to legislate on the subject of the Poor-laws when the feelings of the people were at the present moment so strongly excited. He should strongly oppose the bill.

believed that the guardians in one or two parishes were under the direction of the Poor-law Commissioners and had acted upon their orders. The bill was intended to cover this illegality and was the reason why the clause was introduced, making all orders valid from the 6th of May. So much objectionable power was given to the commissioners by the Bill, that he should give it his most strenuous opposition.

thought it would be unwise to proceed with this measure when a general measure was to be introduced next year to remedy those evils which were complained of in the working of the Poor-laws. This bill appeared to him to take from the parish officers the collection and control of the rates, and to make a further step towards the destruction of local government, and he must say that the House ought to have some better reason than had yet been stated in favour of it, before adopting it. He did entreat the House not to proceed with this measure, for it could not fail to give great dissatisfaction. The powers which the bill conferred were most extensive, and in his opinion most unwise. They were called upon to give the rules which had been laid down by the commissioners the power of laws, while the House had no knowledge of what those rules were. The Commons could not make a law without the consent of the other House of Parliament, but it was proposed by this bill to give the orders which had been issued by the Poor-law Commissioners, no matter what they were, the force of laws. That was certainly a most objectionable course, and he should give the bill every opposition. The subject of the Poor-laws would next year come under the consideration of the House, and the evil which this measure proposed to remedy was not so great as to make it desirable to legislate partially at the present moment.

said it might be necessary when the bill was in committee to consider what checks were necessary on the powers which the bill conferred, but the question which the House had then to consider was, whether a case bad not been made out requiring some legislation. And if there were overseers who, with the view of preventing the introduction or operation of the Poor-law Amendment Act, refused to collect the rates, he would on that ground alone vote for the second reading of the bill, in order that they might have an opportunity of considering in committee what steps should be taken to secure the impartial collection of the rates for the relief of the poor. Now, it was his impression that such was the object of the bill, and he thought that the House was bound to see that the Poor-law Act was fairly carried into operation, and that no persons should be allowed to avail themselves of the state of the law to prevent its introduction. Hon. Gentlemen opposite had become extremely sensitive and alarmed on the subject of the Poor-laws. He had supported the Poor-law Amendment Act, and while all was going smoothly hon. Gentlemen opposite had also supported the measure, and it was then loudly vaunted that the country owed the measure to the Liberal party. But the measure had been much complained of, and those who had once supported it appeared now disposed to divest themselves of all responsibility, and to condemn the whole system which it had established. On the hustings he himself had been complimented on having taken no part in the enactment of the Poor Law Amendment Act, but he had expressly stated to his constituents that he had supported the measure; and, although, he had not denied that there were individual cases of hardship, he had supported the bill, not because he thought it would be productive of advantage to the landed interest, but because he hoped, and sincerely believed, that its effect would ultimately be to elevate permanently the character of the labourer, and secure a fair remuneration for his industry. He must say that he would not consent to reject this bill on the second reading, when its object was to insure the fair collection of the rates, and prevent parties opposed to the Poor-laws from taking advantage of the state of the law to defeat their operation, and make their introduction partial.

said, that the principle which had been laid down by Lord Al- thorp relative to the Poor-laws was, that the collection of rates should be vested in the guardians, and that the administrative authority should rest with the commissioners. The local authorities were still to be acknowledged. He very much regretted that the commissioners should have devolved some of their authority on the subordinates, for to that circumstance many of the evils which were complained of were to be attributed. This bill was certainly an improvement on the one which had been originally introduced, and he did not feel himself justified at present in opposing it altogether.

said, it was his intention to vote for the second reading of the bill, but he did not mean to say that he would support the whole of the details of the measure when they came to be considered in committee. It was true that when Lord Althorp introduced the Poor-law Amendment Act, he stated that it was desirable that the local authorities should have the collection of the rates. He had some experience in the operation of the Poor-laws, and he could state that the rules made by the commissioners, to which the second clause of the bill applied, had been generally framed in consequence of representations made by the guardians, and with a view to give a greater facility to the working of the Poor-law Amendment Act. In rural districts the unions were composed of several parishes or townships, and in each of those there were officers for the collection of rates. But the duties of those officers were performed gratuitously, and they were so obnoxious, that it was with difficulty any person could be induced to undertake them. The consequence was, that they were ill and negligently per-formed, and with the greatest detriment to the rates and rate-payers. This state of things had led to the suggestion that paid officers would have greater facility in the collection of the rates, and be more likely to secure impartiality and fairness. Applications had in consequence been made to the commissioners, and he could assure the House that the orders to which the second clause related had been generally made at the earnest request of the guardians, and they had given great satisfaction to the rate-payers. The second clause was merely declaratory, and had been rendered necessary by the practice he had described. It simply declared that to be law which had generally been acted upon, and so convinced was he of the advantages which had re- sulted from those orders, that he could have no hesitation in voting for the second reading of the bill. If the hon. Member for Kilkenny was sincere in his wish to see the Poor-law Amendment Act in general operation, that wish he could assure the hon. Member would be very likely to be frustrated if this bill were not passed. He fully agreed with what had fallen from his right hon. Friend near him; and he was resolved to give the Poor-law Amendment Act a fair trial, and while he would not consent to anything likely to be injurious to the poor, he would support all subsidiary acts which might be considered necessary for the success of that great experiment.

said, his constituents thought this measure necessary, and he should give it his support. He was happy to hear what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, and be regretted that he did not use his influence to induce some of his party to follow the course which he himself pursued.

objected to this bill, because it took from the rate-payers the control of the rates. He should support the amendment, and he hoped that if the bill were carried it would be kicked out of the other House.

said, that whatever doubt there might have been of the expediency of introducing this bill, there appeared, after the discussion which had arisen, an absolute necessity for passing it; because it seemed that there existed an uncertainty as to the power of the overseers to obey the guardians and levy a rate. If there were no such power, the whole machinery of the Poor-law Relief Bill would be disarranged. It was the interest of the rate-payers that the guardians should have the money in hand without delay, in order that they might be enabled to purchase in the best market. He thought it desirable that an alteration should be made in the first clause, giving the power of summoning previous to issuing a writ of distress.

said, it was the wish of the Poor-law Commissioners, and of the guardians, that the present bill should pass; but he had never heard that such was the desire of the rate-payers. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, had intimated that some of those persons who had voted for the Poor-law seemed now to be undecided in their support of that measure. He hoped this was the case with many. He did not wish to return to the former bad system; but he trusted that all those provisions would be expunged from the new law which justly excited the indignation of the people.

thought the guardians had a perfect right to call on this House to pass the bill. In Lambeth, for instance, the guardians, feeling that they were bound by law to support the poor, found themselves resisted by the overseers, and an announcement had been made, he understood, that the overseers themselves would distribute the poor relief fund. He did not conceive that the House would impose duties on the guardians, and refuse them the means of discharging them.

The House divided on the original question:—Ayes 88; Noes 29: Majority 59.

List of the AYES.

Alsager, CaptainKinnaird, hon. A. F.
Baker, E.Lockhart, A. M.
Baring, F. T.Lowtler, Viscount.
Barnard, E. G.Lowther, J. H.
Berkeley, hon. H.Mildmay, P. St. John
Bernal, R.Morpeth, Viscount.
Blackburne, I.Morris, D.
Blair, J.Muskett, G. A.
Bowes, J.Norreys, Sir D. J.
Broadley, H.O'Brien, W. S.
Bryan, G.O'Ferrall, R. M.
Buller, C.Packe, C. W.
Burrell, Sir C.Pakington, J. S.
Callagan, D.Palmer, R.
Chute, W. L. W.Parker, J.
Clay, W.Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.
Clerk, Sir G.Perceval, Colonel
Cooper, E. J.Philips, M.
Crawford, W.Bigot, D. R.
Cripps, J.Price, Sir R.
Dalmeny, LordReid, Sir J. R.
Darlington, Earl ofRice, rt. hn. T. S.
Divett, E.Russell, Lord J.
Donkin, Sir R. S.Rutherfurd, rt. hn. A.
Eliot, LordSanford, E. A.
Elliot, hon. J. E.Sheil, R. L.
Ferguson, Sir R. A.Smith, R. V.
Filmer, Sir E.Somerville, Sir W.
Fitzpatrick, J. W.Stanley, hon. W. O.
Fremantle, Sir T.Stock, Dr.
Freshfield, J. W.Teignmouth, Lord
Gordon, R.Thomson, rt. hn. C. P.
Graham, rt. hn. Sir J.Thornely, T.
Greenaway, C.Troubridge, Sir E. T.
Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.Waddington, H. S.
Hale, R. BWilbraham, G.
Harcourt, G. G.Wilshere, W.
Hastie, A.Wood, C.
Hawes, B.Wood, G. W.
Hobhouse, rt. hn. Sir J.Worsley, Lord
Hobhouse, T. B.Yates, J. A.
Hodgson, R.
Hope, hon. C.


Hoskins, K.Stanley, E. J.
Howick, Viscount.Maule, hon. F.

List of the NOES.

Attwood, T.Leader, J. T.
Broadwood, H.Lowther, hon. Col.
Brotherton, J.Lushington, C.
Duncombe, T.Lygon, hon. General
Fielden, J.Monypenny, T. G.
Finch, F.O'Connell, J.
Gaskell, J. M.Palmer, G.
Hector, C. J.Parker, R. T.
Hindley, C.Richards, R.
Hodges, T. L.Turner, W.
Hodgson, F.Vigors, N. A.
Hume, J.Williams, W.
Humphery, J.Wood, Col. T.
Ingestre, Viscount.


Irton, S.Grimsditch, T.
Johnson, GeneralWakley, T.

Bill to be committed.