« ElőzőTovább »
ner; but by this Act no direction was given to the Commissioners as to the manner in which they should give publicity to such of their rules as were to have the force of law; it was left to their will and pleasure and discretion. They had the power to publish their rules by the 18th section of the Act, but so far were they from being desirous to promulgate their laws, that they had, if not by a general, at least by a special order, desired that the proceedings at the meetings of the boards of guardians should be strictly secret. They had proceeded with large professions of their anxiety for the public good, with hypocritical pretences of being desirous to elevate the condition and to improve the character of the labourers, and yet at every step they proceeded with a degree of secrecy which was unknown in every other tribunal save that of the inquisition. Nor was this all; for a fragment of one of their special orders was to be found in an excellent pamphlet, called "Practical Remarks on the Severities of the New Poor-law," by Mr. Nicholls-not the dictator of that name, but an elected guardian of the Bourne Union. That gentleman gave, in his pamphlet, an extract of a letter from the notorious Mr. Chadwick, addressed to the clerk to the board of guardians of the Bourne Union, dated July 20, 1837. It was to this effect:
That" individual members of the visiting committee, or other guardians, are not empowered, as such, to visit the workhouse or dividual inmates, without the previous leave of the board."
So that, instead of throwing open the doors of these prisons, not to the inmates of them, but to visitors, there was a strict order from Somerset-house to prevent in dividual guardians from entering them, except by permission of the board. There was another point, also, in which he thought that the country had a right to complain of the conduct of those dictators, and in which they executed the law in a manner not intended by those who were its authors. When a late most eminent writer, then a Member of the other House of Parliament, Mr. Cobbett, proposed, on the original discussion of this measure, that a clause should be introduced, declaring it to be illegal to separate men and their wives in the workhouse, it was said by the noble Lord who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, and now a Member of their Lordships' House, that
such a clause was unnecessary, inasmuch as such a separation was not intended by the bill. And he spoke not from memory for at the time he was absent from this country, and had seceded from their Lordships' House, to which he had returned with feelings of regret-he spoke not, he said, from memory, but from records which were familiar to their Lordships, and which were generally authentic. He found from those reports, that when a noble Friend of his brought up a petition from Stoke Regis, and expressed his apprehension that such a separation of man and wife would soon take place in every workhouse, the noble and learned Lord who then occupied the Woolsack, said, that it was quite impossible, and that the wildest imagination had never dreamt of such a thing. What was his horror and astonishment, when having recently found his way into a house of not very reputable character, and not very distant from the chamber in which they were then assembled, he heard a Minister of the Crown declare, that such a regulation was absolutely necessary, that it had always been intended, and that there was not one word to be said against it. He was aware that their Lordships were now arrived at the end of the present Session. It was impossible for Ministers to say what might happen in the next Session, or even before its commencement. For himself, he took no part in those discussions which were considered of a party nature. But some persons might speculate on such an event as a change in the Administration. Advice might, in such a case, be given to dissolve the Parliament; and he knew that by the dissolution of Parliament, the powers of the Poor-law Commissioners would be dissolved too. Now, for the sake of argument, he would assume, that the exercise of those powers had been beneficial and advantageous to the country, instead of being most injurious and most oppressive, and he would ask their Lordships what practical inconvenience could arise from the cessation of those powers? The whole surface of England had been carved out into unions at the mere caprice and discretion of these dictators. When a proposal had been made as to the expediency of introducing the operation of the New Poor-law Act into Manchester, the answer from the authorities was, that it could not be done without the assistance of the military and a large body of the police.
It was strange that a law so beneficial | noble Viscount was not only opposed by should require such strong measures to be his own colleagues and supporters, but by taken to enforce it. The noble Lord, the his subordinates, for Mr. Chadwick, secreSecretary of State for the Home Depart- tary of the Poor-law Commissioners, in a ment, upon hearing this, thought discre- letter, dated January 31, 1837, stated, tion the better part of valour, and wisely that their orders would "conduce to that forbore to press forward the design. In uniformity which was so important to the all the unions now existing, the rules and efficient working of all unions." There regulations were framed by the board at was, therefore, no agreement either beSomerset-house, and might serve as models tween the noble Viscount and his colfor the rules to be adopted by any new leagues, or between him and the Poor-law unions, if the power of the Commissioners Commissioners, upon the question, whewere to cease. With regard, however, to ther the intent of the Act was to produce these rules and regulations, he wished the uniformity or diversity. In many unions Ministers would agree with each other, as the system adopted was utterly at variance to the extent and meaning of that cele- with the orders of the Poor-law Commisbrated measure, the Poor-law Amendment sioners, because, in some cases, they made Act. He referred to the usual channels of concessions to the authority and influence public information for the words used on a of individuals, upon whose mistaken supformer occasion by the noble Viscount at port they relied for carrying into operation the head of the Government. The noble this detestable law; reserving, however, to Viscount said— themselves the power of drawing the cord tighter, as soon as an opportunity was afforded to them. There was no doubt that the new Poor-law was the cause of all the tumults which had already taken place in the country, and would be the cause of those much more serious tumults
"He knew not for what reason the commissioners should be invested with those large powers to which the right rev. Prelate had adverted, unless to enable them to adapt the provisions of the Act to the peculiar circumstances of peculiar parts of the country."
which, he feared, we should yet witness. With respect to the new Poor-law being the cause of the increase of crime in the country, he would read to the House extracts of letters from a clergyman who had long acted as a magistrate in a neigh
That certainly did appear to be the only reason that could possibly be assigned for passing the Act. But, unfortunately for the noble Viscount, one or two colleagues of his, in introducing the bill, recommended it principally for the uniformity of systems which it would produce through-bouring county :out the country; so that the noble Viscount supported the bill, because it would lead to the establishment of different systems in different localities, and his colleagues supported it, because its consequence would be the universal adoption of the same system. The noble Lord, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, expressed himself as follows:
"I have seen," said the writer, "its miserable effects with sorrow and regret, and well know the evils it has produced in the very numerous offences it has occasioned against the law, arising out of those miseries; and I have ceased to act as a magistrate, since I was not allowed to prevent crime, but only to punish it. I am so totally disgusted with the present inhuman and dangerous system of poor-law, that no consideration would induce me to enforce it. I can see no security for the peace of the country until the new law (as if made on sys-purpose to produce disturbance) shall be either repealed or amended. It has been the cause of almost every crime of late, whether burglary, felony, or arson, within my knowledge; and the last nine men whom I committed to the county gaol, and who were tried almost all for capital offences, and transported for life, declared that they had been driven to despair by the refusal of both relief and employment."
“An immense advantage would be obtained by the establishment of an uniformity of tem throughout the country."
A similar opinion was given by Hume, who said,
"If there was any one thing more important than another to the complete success of the measure, it was the uniformity of the plan proposed."
Sir T. Fremantle " thought that, the principle of the bill was a uniformity of system for all parishes," and other Members of the House of Commons expressed themselves to the same effect. But the
If he did not wish for the maintenance of public peace and for the preservation of the ancient institutions of the country, and of property itself, which would be endangered, and at length destroyed, if this
Lord Wynford said, that considering how much agitation prevailed throughout the country on the subject of this bill, and considering its great importance, he was sorry to see that it excited so little interest in the House as to be discussed by a number of Peers barely sufficient to form a jury. When the new Poor-law Act was first introduced, he had objected to the appointment of Commissioners invested with such powers as that Act conferred upon them, because he considered it unsafe and unconstitutional to invest any men with powers so extensive. He thought, also, that it was most unwise to allow three gentlemen sitting at Somerset House, and knowing nothing whatever of the management of the poor, to control and direct the proceedings of country gentlemen, who from their station, habits, and experience, were much more competent to point out and carry into effect such amendments as might be from time to time required in the provisions of the Poorlaw, for the purpose of remedying present evils. He had never been blind to the abuses which existed under the old system of Poor-laws, and he should be sorry to see the ancient mode of administering the law again resorted to, but he could not approve of the alteration which had been made by the new Act. It was as absurd to appoint the three gentlemen at Somerset House to direct the administration of the Poor-laws as it would be to subject all the farmers in the kingdom to such laws and ordinances as might be devised by a committee composed of gentlemen taken from the Stock-Exchange. These were his opinions when he had had no experience of the operation of the new law, and everything that had taken place since had convinced him that his first impression was correct. He should, therefore, give his support to his noble Friend, and if they stood alone, the majority against them would not be very great. It was said that the effect of the new Poor-law had been to diminish the amount of the poor-rate; that might have been the case in some large parishes, but in small parishes he knew that the effect was directly the reverse, and that the expence had been considerably increased. But the expence was one of the very least of the considerations upon which the expediency of the measure depended. God forbid that he should purchase a reduction of expenditure by lowering the condition of the poorer classes!
pernicious Act were persevered in, he should have remained silent, and allowed the evil to take its course. He could entertain no doubt that the new Poor-law, if not repealed by Parliament, would be repealed by the people, but he deprecated the convulsions which would be occasioned by such a repeal. Those convulsions would be of a most tremendous nature, and such as no military or police force could prevent. Whatever might happen, it would be a source of great satisfaction to him to reflect that he had frequently, although ineffectually, warned their Lordships of the danger which they were incurring. He should persevere whether he were supported by few or many, or even without any support, in the discharge of what he felt to be his duty to the people of this country. He trusted that the people would, by such means only as were consistent with law and order, oppose this Act, which violated not only all laws, but trampled under foot the dearest and most sacred rights. To use the words of a noble Friend, whose memory he venerated, and whose loss he deplored, (he meant Lord Eldon), he would say, if Parliament would not do its duty, the people must do theirs. Upon all occasions he felt as strongly upon the subject of this Act, as if he were likely to come within the operation of its cruel and merciless provisions, and to be subject to its injury, its injustice, and its oppression. He had always recommended the people earnestly and fervently to seek the removal of this oppression by all legal and constitutional means, and having thus discharged this duty, to leave the result to Providence, which at its own season and in the fulness of time would judge between the oppresser and the oppressed. He had limited his remarks, as he promised to do in the outset, to the appointment of the dictators of Somerset House, without bringing forward his reasons against the principle of the Poor-law Amendment Act. The House would have to decide on the fate of the measure now before them. He should attach no importance to any amendment which might be proposed to it, because, in his opinion, no amendment was practicable of a bill founded on principles so unjust and so subversive of the rights of the people, and which would be passed, if passed at all, by a Parliament in which the people were not represented. The noble Earl concluded by moving that the bill be read a second time that day three months.
He had been told, however, that wages The Marquess of Lansdowne said, that had been raised in consequence of the the benefits of the new Poor-law could new law. Could any noble Lord point not have been attained or perpetuated but out a place where wages had been raised by the existence of an authority central from this cause? Did not every man in its nature, capable of communicating know that wages, on the contrary, had with all parts of the country, and of inbeen diminished? Then how had the poor troducing that degree of uniformity and been benefited by this measure, when it similarity of principle, necessary to prewas universally acknowledged that it would vent such a law from becoming obnoxious be impossible to improve their moral con- to the inhabitants. It was from the condition without raising their wages? Un-viction, that if the powers of the Commis less that was done, no education could be sioners were withdrawn, unions would given to the lower classes, for at present, cease to be formed, and workhouses, at the earliest moment at which a child which under the new system would be could earn only a few halfpence for the the sources of so many advantages to the support of its parents, it was condemned poor, would cease to be built. That war thenceforward to severe labour, which between the labourer and his employer, not only deprived it of all opportunity of and between parish and parish, carried on mental improvement, but weakened and for the purpose of throwing the burden destroyed its physical constitution. It was from one parish to another, would again not without cause that the people of this disgrace the country and degrade the country were discontented. If he only poor, while it crippled the exertions of looked at the dissatisfaction now prevail- the independent labourer. It was to ing in the country, without saying that avert these calamities, that this bill had concession should always be made to po- been introduced, in the hope that being pular clamour, he should think there was adopted by their Lordships, the system sufficient ground for resisting the present might be suffered to remain in operation, bill. He was convinced that the dreadful while an opportunity was afforded to their laws now in force would never be changed Lordships to consider whether any and while the gentlemen who now sat at what amendments might with propriety Somerset House continued in office, and be introduced at some future opportunity. he was, therefore, anxious to put an end He was not prepared to admit with the to their jurisdiction as speedily as possible. noble and learned Lord opposite, that The Poor-law Commissioners had made a wages had in the least degree decreased in regulation that every man shall support consequence of the enactment of the new his family out of his own wages. If crimes Poor-law, but he was prepared to mainwere committed in consequence of this tain, that its tendency had been decidedly absurd and iniquitous regulation, he (Lord to raise the wages of the independent laWynford) had no hesitation in saying bourer. He was persuaded, that opporthat the greatest part of the guilt must tunity had not yet been afforded for the lie at the door of those who drive the full benefits of the law to be worked out, poor to such extremes. To support such but it had had a marked and salutary ina system as this was to legislate against fluence in raising wages. In proof of nature; the attempt could not be made this, he would state the very gratifying without mischief. There were many of fact, that during the last year, when the the topics connected with this question, price of provisions had been considerably on which, had he not been present in the above the usual rate, the number of the House since half-past three o'clock that depositors in the savings'-bank had inday, he should be inclined to dilate. The creased more than 50,000, and the poor had no representatives in the House amount of deposits had increased more of Commons; they had no hope but in their than 1,800,000l. They had the testimony Lordships' justice, and he feared that that of Mr. Tidd Pratt, than whom no man hope would be much blighted when they was better acquainted with these subjects, knew from the division that was about to that this increase had taken place in a take place, how very few of their Lord- greater degree in the rural districts, than ships thought it worth while to assist in any other part of the country. He asked the consideration of a question which af- their Lordships, whether, if the new Poorfected at least three-fourths of the people law had not had a salutary influence, an of this country. increase of the deposits to such an extent
Bill went through committee.
would have been possible? It was only | as a temporary measure, that he called on their Lordships to agree to this bill, without which, he firmly believed the great experiment now in progress for ameliorating the condition of the poor, would not receive a fair trial.
COLLECTION OF RATES.] The Marquess of Lansdowne moved the second reading of the Poor-rates Collection Bill.
Earl Stanhope remarked, that this bill was strangely altered from its original form. It did not bear the most distant resemblance to the shape which it presented when it was first introduced. The necessary effect of the bill in its present shape would be to create throughout the country a most violent spirit of opposition on the part of the rate-payers, In that respect he thought it would have a most beneficial operation; it was the single drop of water which would make the cup of bitterness overflow, and render the
Earl Stanhope observed, that no attempt had been made to answer the arguments he had urged as to the unconstitutional and illegal nature of this measure, and still less the reasoning he had offered to their Lordships, to shew that no Parliament in which the labouring classes were not fairly represented, had a right to pass this measure. He could see no reason why the commissioners' power should be continued. The noble Marquess had said, that the new Poor-law had had the effect of raising the wages of la-new Poor-law a nullity. bourers; but he forgot that 400,000 workmen were employed in the construction of railroads, and that the demand for their labour, as well as the stimulus given to the iron trade and various other branches of industry in consequence, produced a rise in wages all over the country. No man who had considered the subject for one moment could possibly doubt, that the natural, immediate, and inevitable tendency of that execrable measure, was to lower wages and grind the faces of the poor. The inmates of a county gaol were better fed, and better cared for, than the unfortunates who were reduced to take refuge in an union workhouse. Convinced, as he was, that numberless evils were caused by the new system of administering relief to the poor, he must entreat their Lordships not to be parties to its continuance by adopting the present measure.
The House divided on the original motion-Contents 10; Not-Contents 2:Majority 8.
The Marquess of Lansdowne said, that the overseers in certain districts having refused to make a rate, and having thus done their best to defeat the object of the Act, this bill became absolutely necessary. The guardians had incurred a very large amount of debt; and a writ of mandamus was both a tedious and inconvenient process, to obviate the necessity of which this bill was introduced.
Bill read a second time.
HOUSE OF COMMONS,
Thursday, August 15, 1839.
MINUTES.] Bills. Read a third time :-Bolton Police;
DISTRICT CONSTABLES.] The County and District Constables Bill read a third time.
Mr. Hodgson moved an amendment, to the effect that constables should not be disqualified for voting at elections for Members of Parliament.
The Solicitor-General said, that he felt no objection to take whatever course might be most acceptable to the majority of the House; it did appear to him, however, that the object of disqualifying constables from voting in their own districts could not be fully accomplished, unless they were also disqualified from voting in those which were immediately adjoining.
The House divided on the question, that the words proposed to be left out stand.-Ayes 39; Noes 17: Majority 22.