HC Deb 17 May 1847 vol 92 cc954-6

LORD J. RUSSELL moved the Order of the Day for the Second Reading of the Poor Laws Administration Bill.


rose to put a question of which he had given notice. It would be recollected that the Andover Union Committee sat for four months; and the Poor Law Commissioners were examined and re-examined, and recalled at their own request to contradict any evidence brought to bear upon their characters and conduct. On the 20th of August last, the Committee reported— That the conduct of the Poor Law Commissioners had been irregular and arbitrary, not in accordance wito the statute under which they exercised their functions, and such as to shake public confidence in their administration of the law. The public then expected that those Gentlemen would have been instantly dismissed from the offices they held; but what was the conduct of the Government? On the 31st of August, the Home Secretary sent them a letter conveying certain instructions; and on the 8th of September they sent him their private defence. That defence had been since laid on the Table of the House; and on the 5th of March it was ordered to be printed. He had it then before him; and he declared unhesitatingly that it contained the most audacious untruths. ["Oh, oh!"] He was prepared to prove that, if any hon. Member disputed his assertion. But what had the Poor Law Commissioners done? They had published that defence at Her Majesty's stationers', and emblazoned it with the Royal Arms. Not content with this, they were circulating it not only among Members of Parliament, but among persons entirely unconnected with either House, or with any of the public offices; a copy was sent, for instance, to a tradesman in Oxford-street, with the Commissioners' seal. He begged to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether the private defence of the Poor Law Commissioners to the charges brought against them before the Andover Union Committee (entitled Letters addressed by the Poor Law Commissioners to the Secretary of State, respecting the Transaction of the Business of the Commission," &c. embellished with the Royal Arms, and "printed by W. Clowes and Sons, Stamford Street, for Her Majesty's Stationery Office,") had been printed and circulated with the sanction of Her Majesty's Government? If printed and circulated with the sanction of Her Majesty's Government, whether he intended the expense to be defrayed out of the public purse? If printed and circulated at the public expense, whether he would lay upon the Table of the House a statement of the expense?


, did not mean to say that the hon. Gentleman was out of order, but certainly it was inconvenient, when notice of putting a simple question had been given, to go into an impeachment of the conduct of the Poor Law Commissioners, asserting that they had told a direct falsehood with respect to a matter not quite directly connected with the question. If that were the hon. Member's opinion, he would be right in making a Motion upon the subject; but it was hardly fair to introduce such a charge under the guise of putting a question. In answer to the question or questions put, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) must first observe, that the hon. Member was wrong in speaking of this as "a private defence." The Commissioners were called upon by the Home Secretary to answer certain inquiries which he addressed to them on certain subjects connected with the administration of the Poor Law; and they made what could not be called a private defence, for it was a public answer to a public requisition on the part of the Secretary of State; they wrote certain letters which had since been laid on the Table of the House. It was true that those letters had since been published in the form alluded to, and circulated by the Commissioners; and it was true that this had been done without the previous sanction of the Government. But it had been the invariable practice, since the Board was instituted, to publish the reports of the Commissioners, and with very great advantage, in a more convenient form than that of the "blue book," and to circulate them throughout the country in a much more readable shape; and the Commissioners, in accordance with what had been their practice, had printed in the same shape the correspondence connected with their proceedings, in reply to questions put to them officially by the Secretary of State. With regard to the expense of the publication being defrayed out of the public purse, he thought it ought to be so paid, because they had only acted in accordance with their previous practice. The expense, he believed, would be about 10l.; but he should be perfectly prepared to lay an estimate of it on the Table if the hon. Member wished for it.