§ MR. HUME
said, the House would observe, among the Notices of Motion for that day, one of nine Resolutions which he had placed on the book some time ago, with a view to giving an opportunity to the 1010 House to pronounce an opinion thereon. These resolutions had relation to the proceedings of the Poor Law Commissioners; and he had been induced to give notice of his intention to move those resolutions entirely from the evidence which had been brought before the District Asylums' Committee, of which he was a member, with respect to those proceedings; but, as the right hon. Secretary for the Home Department had stated that it was not the intention of the Government to allow the district asylums to proceed until the Government should have had time to consider the subject, and form an opinion thereon, it would not suit his (Mr. Hume's) purpose to proceed with the first eight of his resolutions. But, with regard to the last of his resolutions, which related more especially to the personal conduct and to the proceedings of the Commissioners, and which referred to charges against them of a very grave nature, he considered that the subject of it was so important that he should be justified in offering to the House some remarks upon it. But he did so with reluctance: he had been a warm advocate of the amended Poor Law, considering that if carried out on sound principles it was adapted to produce great good to the country; but he should not do his duty if he neglected to remark on the facts which had been developed on evidence before the District Asylums' Committee. He did not mean, at present, to refer to what had passed before the Andover Committee, because it was sufficient for his purpose to state some of the results of the evidence brought before the District Asylums' Committee; and that evidence was demonstrative, to his mind, that the Poor Law had not been properly carried out. Now this was a very grave charge; for Parliament having determined to intrust to the Commission what had often been called unconstitutional powers—powers that had never been given by the Legislature to any other body of men—powers that had always hitherto been exercised by the two Houses of Parliament, and which had only been granted on the last necessity, and to prevent the evil that then threatened to pauperize the whole of the working classes—he, among others, then agreed to give to the Commission its extraordinary powers as the only means of preventing so great an evil. But then the House had determined, when the change in the law was under discussion, that it was expedient to give these powers to a board, in order to prevent any person solely and 1011 singly from exercising the whole of the powers given by the amended law. Parliament had resolved that everything done by the Commission should be done by a board. Now, the evidence before the District Asylums' Committee, and indeed the evidence already on the Table of the House, proved satisfactorily that the law had been in some particulars utterly annulled by the Commissioners; for it was made out that the Commissioners were in the habit of sitting in their private rooms, and of acting without consulting with one another, and without sitting as a board, so that their proceedings had been carried on without any check from one or the other. It was on that ground, therefore, that he held that the Commissioners had grievously violated the law, and there was this further ground—for by Clause 4 of the Poor Law Amendment Act it was provided—That the Commissioners shall make the record of their proceedings, in which shall be entered in writing a reference to every letter received, whence, its date, the date of its reception, and the subject to which it relates, and a minute of every letter written or order given by the said Commissioners, whether in answer to such letter received, or otherwise, with the date of the same, and a minute of the opinion of each of the members of the Board of Commissioners, in case they should finally differ in opinion upon any order to be given, or other proceeding of the Board; and such record shall be submitted to one of His Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State once in every year, or as often as he shall require the same.The last enactment was framed with a view that the record should be submitted to Parliament. Those were the safeguards that Parliament had set up against the undue exercise of the powers confided to the Board of Commissioners; but all these safeguards had been completely removed by the conduct of the Commissioners. It appeared in evidence, that from the year 1841 no secretary had sat at the board. The minutes had never been properly kept; but the minutes had been made on separate pieces of paper, and these at the end of the year had been bound up together into what they called a volume. Then at the meetings of the boards no minutes of their proceedings at the previous board had over been read, as was the practice of all other public boards; and he therefore, upon the whole, was conscientiously of opinion that the Commissioners had acted illegally, and were acting illegally, and that there was the greatest possible danger in allowing them to go on in the same course. When he recollected that he was one of those who supported the formation of a 1012 board, being at that time a Member for a populous county, and that no man had been more violently assailed than he had been for having given that support to this law, which had ever since been thrown up against him by those who wished to attack him, it being known that he had all along supported the Commissioners, he confessed that he had been deceived, and that the checks that had been devised by Parliament, and the control which he thought Parliament had established over the conduct of the Commissioners, were of no avail. In the Third Annual Report of the Commissioners submitted to the House in 1837, the following regulation appeared as having been made with reference to the Hatfield Union by the Poor Law Commissioners in that year:—Every destitute person who shall present any such ticket to the master of the workhouse shall by the said master be received as casual poor; and after a compliance with the workhouse regulations, provided for the admission of destitute persons, shall, if he or she be able-bodied or partially disabled, be set on such work as may be provided for the able-bodied or the partially disabled.He quoted this to show the principles on which the Board had acted with reference to the question of admission to the workhouse:—After such person shall have performed a task of work proportioned to his or her capacity, he or she shall receive such a meal of food as is provided to be given to the regular paupers, inmates of the workhouse; and thenceforth, on the performance of the prescribed work, shall receive the same diet and he subject to the same discipline as the other paupers of the workhouse.After having done the work, therefore, the pauper was to receive the same diet as the other able-bodied paupers in the workhouse. These regulations did, he contended, contain the true principles of the amended Poor Law, and the test that was meant to be established by it. That test was the capability of working, and that was the test that was established by the Poor Law Amendment Act of the 4th and 5th of William IV. Now the acts of the Commissioners had set at nought all these resolutions. They, as the Committee he had mentioned had decided, had systematically set at nought all these resolutions, because they had issued orders that any pauper presenting himself at the workhouse should have food. Now what was the bad effect of such a rule, sufficiently appeared by the great increase in the number of vagrants which had taken place of late. In England and Wales the number of wandering poor or paupers and vagrants 1013 in the whole 480 unions was in 1841, 43,000; in 1842, 78,000; in 1843, 112,000; in 1844, 118,000; in 1845, 116,000, leaving out the odd numbers. Now that statement showed that the number of vagrants had trebled pretty nearly since 1841; and how could it be otherwise than trebled when the Poor Law Commissioners issued orders in 1838 and 1839, that all persons applying for relief at a workhouse should have it, although no work was provided for the able-bodied mendicants? He took upon himself to state to the House that if the law had been carried out, it would have been signally successful. It appeared that it would have been so by the results of the instances in which it had been carried out. At the workhouse of St. Saviour's, Southwark, Mr. Hall had stated that for the three weeks before the labour test was applied, 11,111 vagrants were admitted; but in the three weeks after they were reduced to 776. With the test of labour to contend with, the vagrants, it seemed, did not choose to return to the workhouse; and that proved most completely the correctness of the Report of the Commissioners of Inquiry as far as regarded this part of the subject. In the parish of Marylebone, in 1834, they had been pestered with applications for admission to the workhouse on the part of vagrants. What was the effect of the labour test in the workhouse? They had been accustomed to receive as many as 900 applications in one week; but when they applied the test of labour no more than ninety applied—all the rest disappeared. Now, all the evidence that had been lately collected proved that this application of the labour test had been systematically neglected by the Poor Law Commissioners; that they had deceived Parliament and the public, and brought the Poor Law into discredit in the eyes of the nation. That being the case, he thought it was deserving of the serious attention of the Government whether such proceedings should be any longer tolerated. This mode of proceeding of the Commissioners had been the origin of the District Asylums' Committee, of which he was a member; for the Commissioners having deceived Parliament and the Government, the late Government brought in a Bill for establishing such district asylums. He, as a member of the vestry of Marylebone, had represented to the late Government that they had, in the workhouse of the parish, ample provision for the casual poor, and 1014 that to establish these asylums would only be to encourage begging, and that the result would be that they would have persons begging all day, and coming home at night to a warm room, and to food, and that next day they would sally out to plunder the public afresh. Except in the city of London, where there were no workhouses suited to the reception of casual poor, the poor of the several parishes being usually farmed out two or three miles from town, there was in the workhouses within the metropolitan police district ample accommodation for the reception of as many mendicants as would apply. According to returns from the metropolitan parishes in 1845, it appeared that there was workhouse accommodation in the unions for 22,186 paupers; but the greatest number of persons that actually applied in that year was 19,577, leaving vacancies for 2,609 persons more than had been filled up. With this information before them, the Poor Law Commissioners could not have recommended the establishment of district asylums; and this information they might have had if they had inquired, which they never had done. There was not a single minute to show the grounds on which, they had made that recommendation. Yet they had recklessly and ignorantly recommended the late Government to establish a double set of workhouses. These were his complaints against the Poor Law Commissioners. Mr. Hall himself stated that he was the only assistant who had been employed to make any inquiries relating to the subject of these district asylums; and from his report itself it appeared that there was clear room in the metropolis for 1,000 more vagrants and casual poor than had been wanted. Mr. Hall said, that the greatest number applying for admission in any one night was 16,000, whereas there was room for 17,000; and yet the Commissioners would have district asylums erected. Towards the necessary expense of this, the parish of Marylebone was to be taxed at one-third of the whole amount, while it was only to have had one-eighth or one-ninth share of the management. The Commissioners would have taxed the parish at the rate of 10,000l. a year. The waste of money that would have taken place would have been intolerable. The first of the resolutions which he had intended to have submitted had been agreed to by the District Asylums' Committee, to the effect that the orders of the Commissioners of 1838 and 1839 had greatly increased vagrancy 1015 in the metropolis. He should mention one further circumstance with reference to this part of the subject. The police magistrates of the metropolis had not done their duty with respect to this class of offenders. Some of those magistrates—all except two—when men had been brought before them, who had been drinking in public houses, and remaining there till eleven o'clock at night, and had been taken into custody in the streets, did not do their duty as they ought. A great experiment had been made, and Parliament had entrusted the conducting of it to individuals who had violated that trust; and in saying so he was not excepting the First Commissioner—not Sir F. Lewis himself—they had all violated the trust reposed in them. It was with great pain that he brought the subject before the House; but hoping that Her Majesty's Ministers would be enabled to deal satisfactorily with the evil, he must say it was absolutely necessary that they should interfere if they meant the law to be carried out. They must do that in order to give confidence to those who managed the inferior departments under the law, or it would be much better to repeal the law. On these reasons, as the Government had not yet had time to go over the voluminous documents and evidence that bore upon the subject, he would only ask, that during the recess they would see that proper regulations were carried out. Those who were adverse to the New Poor Law rejoiced at the maladministration of its provisions, as furnishing arguments against the principle of the law. That was not his feeling. He thought that they ought not to confound the effects of maladministration with defects in the principle of the law. For the reasons he had given, he should conclude by moving only his last Resolution:—That Her Majesty will be graciously pleased to cause a special public inquiry to be made into the facts above recited and referred to in the evidence before the House, to ascertain whether the Commissioners, by their letters, instructions, and proceedings, and by their omission to direct the means for setting the able-bodied mendicants to work, did encourage and increase mendicity; and also whether the proceedings of the Commissioners generally have been culpably irregular or illegal; and if it shall appear that the Commissioners have so acted, or have by their culpable defaults occasioned the mischief complained of, that Her Majesty will be graciously pleased to take into Her consideration the certainty of dismissal of inferior officers when they have infringed the law or the rules laid down for their guidance; and that She will be pleased to direct that evenhanded justice be done to these superior officers, who have had, 1016 as is expressed by the Commission of Inquiry, 'the immediate advantage of well-defined objects assigned to them, powerful means at their disposal, and clear rules for their guidance.'
§ SIR G. GREY
said, that the hon. Gentleman would bear him out, he was sure, in stating that on his (Sir G. Grey's) having represented to the hon. Gentleman that at that late period of the Session, and as the Report of the Andover Committee was not yet printed, it would not be practicable to go into the subject of his resolutions, the hon. Gentleman had given him in private a distinct assurance that he should not move his Resolution this Session. Considering the importance of the subject, and the importance also of examining the evidence given before the Andover Union Workhouse Committee, and the District Asylums' Committee, he thought it was the duty of Her Majesty's Government to give the most deliberate attention to the whole subject. Under the impression, then, that the hon. Gentleman had given him a distinct pledge that he should not move his resolutions this Session, he (Sir G. Grey) should not go further into the subject.
§ Motion withdrawn.