§ Order for Committee read.
§ MR. ADDERLEY moved that Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair. The hon. Member said that the principle of the Bill having been so fully recognized on a former occasion, he hoped that he should be allowed to proceed with it at once. He thought that the clauses and Amendments which he was about to introduce would fully meet the views of the hon. Members who had placed notices with respect to the Bill on the paper.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
hoped that the hon. Member would only go into Committee proformaâ, in order to have the Amendments of which he had given notice printed. The Bill was one of great importance, and though he should be sorry to stand in the way of its being considered in Committee, he thought sufficient time ought to be given to ascertain the opinion of boards of guardians, and others who were interested, throughout the country regarding it. His right hon. Friend the President of the Poor Law Board and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster took a deep interest in the question, and he hoped that they would have an opportunity 622 of fully considering all the details of the measure. But that could not be done on the mere introduction of new clauses; and therefore, if the hon. Gentleman refused to accede to the course he had suggested, he should vote for the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for the West Riding (Viscount Goderich).
cordially concurred in the opinion of the right hon. Baronet. This measure, however benevolent might be its object, would interfere greatly with the operations of poor-law guardians throughout the country, and it contained many clauses which were objected to even by some of its supporters. He thought it very desirable, therefore, that time should be given for consideration, and he hoped his hon. Friend would adopt the suggestion thrown out to him.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, that, as Ireland was to be exempted from the operation of the Bill, it might appear at first that an Irish Member had no right to offer any objections. He could not, however, conceal from himself that the vast majority of the disorderly and vagrant children who would come under the operation of the Bill were the children of Irish parents who had located themselves in the metropolis and other large towns, and therefore, as an Irish Member, he felt considerable apprehensions. The question of taxation was an English one, and he would not deal with it; but he hoped his hon. Friend would propose a clause which would lull the apprehensions now felt that the religious principles of the children would be tampered with by some of the managers of the proposed schools. Had his hon. Friend witnessed the heart-burnings and outrages which had arisen in Ireland from the system of proselytism, he would wish to place his scheme above all suspicion in that respect, and to make it a blessing instead of a snare to the lower classes of the community.
§ VISCOUNT GODERICH,
in moving that the House resolve itself into the said Committee this day three weeks, observed that he had nothing whatever to say against the object of the measure. It would, no doubt, be an excellent thing if children could be reclaimed from crime and vagrancy; but in considering this measure they ought also to consider its machinery, and what effect it would have upon the present law. He only wanted to show that the Bill was of such a character that it required the utmost consideration before 623 it was passed. It proposed to make an alteration in the existing poor law by dealing with the rates and the funds now administered by the guardians; and therefore both they and the people who paid the rates ought to be allowed ample time to consider the question. It proposed to do three things, of a very grave character. In the first place, it placed the guardians and the justices in such a relation to each other as could not fail to be productive of very great inconvenience, and would probably lead to many conflicts. The Bill would give power to the justices to send the children to the schools to be established under the Act, and if, after examining the parents, they considered that they were not in a condition to support such children, the justices were invested with an arbitrary power of making them chargeable upon the parish. Thus, all power of putting the parents to the test now enforced by the guardians would be entirely taken out of their hands, and that safeguard which the poor law set up to ascertain the real ability of the parent to support his children, would be destroyed, it being for the justices to say whether in their discretion the child ought to be maintained by the parish or not. This Bill also would virtually defeat the present law of settlement in the case of these children, because not only was it enacted that the children might be declared chargeable to the parish, but to that particular parish in which they were apprehended in the commission of the act of vagrancy which subjected them to the provisions of the Act. He had no objection, indeed, to an alteration of the present law of settlement, but he thought it ought to be effected by a specific measure introduced into the House and properly discussed, and not by a side-wind like this. What would be the effect? Why, that in numerous cases they would have the settlement of the parents in different parishes to those in which the children were arrested, and then an entirely new principle would be imported into the law of England. The House would recollect that one of the great difficulties that arose on the former measure was that which related to the settlement of Irish paupers, and many grave objections were advanced by boards of guardians in different parts of England on that ground. But one of the greatest objections to this measure was that which arose under the 17th clause, which provided that the justices might summon the parents and inquire into their circumstances, and then, in their discretion, 624 might order them to pay a certain sum towards the maintenance of the children so apprehended; but if, on the other hand, they did not conceive that they were in a condition to pay for the support of the children, they were authorized to make an absolute order, without consulting the guardians, that the children should be supported out of the poor rates. Now, the effect of this would be that a parent would only have to send his children out into the street to beg, and thus get taken up by a policeman, in order to enable him to go before the magistrates, state his inability to support his children, and get them thrown on the parish. Under all the circumstances of the case, he thought it highly desirable that the Bill should be postponed until the country had given a full expression of opinion upon it.
§ MR. HADFIELD
seconded the Motion.Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House will, upon this day three weeks, resolve itself into the said Committee," instead thereof.Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question.
§ MR. ADDERLEY
complained of the obstruction thrown in the way of the measure, and was by no means convinced that its postponement now would be a means of saving time in future, because precisely the same objections might be hereafter raised. At all events, he thought he was entitled to introduce his Amendments, and proceed with the measure until they came to the clause to which the chief objections were raised. He reminded the House how difficult it would be for him to obtain another day, and expressed his surprise that, considering the second reading was carried by nearly ten to one, he should not now be allowed to proceed with its details. So far from the measure being objectionable, the testimony of the important town of Birmingham was in its favour, for he had a letter from the guardians there, stating that when it became known that there was an intention of opposing the Bill, they met, with other bodies interested in the improvement of national education, and passed Resolutions strongly in favour of the measure. After taking the sense of the House on the 16th clause, he should have no objection to the Bill being re-committed as suggested.
§ MR. BAINES
said, he had already expressed an opinion favourable to the principle of the Bill, and was anxious to see some measure passed on the subject; but 625 he wished to see a well-considered measure, not a crude and indigested one. In its present shape the Bill would give rise to a great deal of useless discussion, which might be avoided by acceding to the proposition for the postponement of the Bill. There were several points of detail on which the promoters of the Bill did not appear to have made up their minds, and it was of great importance, before any discussion took place in Committee, that the various boards of guardians throughout the country should have an opportunity of considering the Bill in its matured shape.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said, he did not wish to discuss this measure, but the conduct of the Government with regard to it. It appeared to him that the duty of the Government was to watch well how laws were made in this House, and that they ought to be responsible for every enactment, and not to allow private Members to alter the whole system of the country in enactments Introduced for special objects. It was, therefore, in his opinion, the duty of the Government to say whether they would adopt this measure or not. He said that the Government ought to be called upon, not to ask hon. Gentlemen what their intentions were, but to state their own. The House and the country wanted to know what Government thought of this measure in relation to, and as tampering with, the poor law. They ought not to try, like the noble Lord the Member for the West Riding, to put off indefinitely its discussion— to put it off for ever—for that, in fact, was what they were doing; but to take a more manly course, and either say that it was a measure which they could not approve of, or to take it out of the hands of the hon. Member for North Staffordshire, and to give it their earnest attention. His own opinion was, that the subject was so important that it ought to be dealt with by the Government alone.
§ MR. KENDALL
urged the necessity for postponing this Bill, in order that the opinion of the poor-law guardians throughout the country might be taken.
§ MR. PALK
also pressed the House to postpone the further consideration of the Bill, and that upon the ground that the measure, if passed as it stood, would, in practice, cause the most mischievous consequences. It would interfere most tyrannically with the only pleasure which the poorer classes of labourers had, the society and solace of their children. But he admitted that the subject, as it stood, was 626 surrounded with difficulties requiring legislation, and he agreed with the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck), that the Government ought to take the matter into their own hands.
§ MR. ROBERT PALMER
also pressed for a postponement of the measure, but he suggested that the House should go into Committee pro formâ, that certain important Amendments might be printed. The Chairman might then report progress, and sit again that day four weeks.
§ Amendment by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ House resumed; Bill reported; to be printed, as amended (Bill 25); recommitted for Wednesday, 17th June.