§ The Order of the Day having been read for considering the Commons' Reasons for disagreeing to one of the Lords' Amendments,674
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
observed, that notwithstanding that he still adhered to the opinions which he had delivered respecting the various provisions of the Bill, when the measure was under the consideration of their Lordships, and notwithstanding that those opinions had been approved of by the great majority of their Lordships, he, nevertheless—regard being had to all the circumstances of the case— had no hesitation in asking their Lordships not to insist upon the Amendment they had made in the Bill, in reversion of an alteration agreed to by the other House. The Commons had so far deferred to the wishes of their Lordships as to acquiesce, at their instance, in an important Amendment, the effect of which would be to prevent boards of guardians from being converted into arenas of popular contention, to the great detriment of public business, and to the disgust, no doubt, of many respectable and influential persons who were now in the habit of attending those boards; and the question now arose, whether, having obtained that valuable concession, which in his opinion was absolutely necessary to justify the passing of the Bill at all, they would now insist on the less important Amendment which their Lordships had made, by omitting that clause, the effect of which would be to prevent poor couples over sixty years of age from being received together into the workhouse. He had been all along of opinion that cases of a peculiar description might arise where it might be highly desirable that poor couples should not be separated; but he was inclined to think that the guardians were the safe, fit, and competent judges to decide upon such cases, and the more so as no cases of abuse with respect to the conduct of guardians had ever been alleged of such a character as to favour the supposition that if a discretionary power of that kind were entrusted to them, they would use it improperly, or show any indisposition to consult the feelings of the humblest persons who might appeal to their humanity. It was in that light that he had all along viewed the question. However, a feeling had certainly arisen amongst the friends of the poor, not only out of doors, but in the other House of Parliament, that if the Bill were passed in the precise shape in which it came from their Lordships' hands, sufficient protection in that respect would not be afforded to the poor, and that cases might arise where poor couples at an advaced period of 675 life would be deprived of those comforts which were essential to their condition, and which could only be insured to them by taking care that they should not be separated from each other. That had been in a strong degree the feeling of the House of Commons, who, there could be no doubt, had acted from motives of humanity and benevolence. He had made inquiries on the subject, and was given to understand that the operation of the clause inserted by the Commons would not in all likelihood materially interfere with the administration of the Poor Law; and being convinced as he was that the clause had originated in a feeling of humanity and kindness towards the poor on the part of the other House of Parliament, he was prepared to submit to their Lordships whether it was expedient just at that moment for their Lordships to insist upon the Bill being restored to the form which it presented when it received their sanction on the third reading. He begged leave to move that their Lordships do not insist on their Amendment, but that on the contrary, they do acquiesce in the views of the other House.
The EARL of STRADBROKE
objected to the retention of the clause for three reasons. First, because the House of Lords had already in the most positive and decided manner rejected it; secondly, because the clause itself was calculated to produce irregularity and relaxed discipline in workhouses; and, thirdly, because it was contrary to the expressed opinion of some of the highest authorities in the country, the very men who took a leading part in the passing of the law of 1834. He asked their Lordships whether it was decent—whether it was becoming—whether it was expedient now to adopt that which they had previously with unanimity rejected?
§ EARL GREY
agreed with the noble Earl, and confessed that he did not think it right or expedient that the clause should be introduced in the Bill. At the same time he thought the noble Earl attached a greater degree of importance to it than it really possessed. The whole number of such old couples as the Bill applied to, was not, on an average, more than two in each union; and of these a considerable number were, by consent of the boards of guardians and the Commissioners, admitted to the privileges which this clause now sought to confer upon them. He begged their Lordships to remember that if they, upon this occasion, voted for the rejection of this 676 clause, they were, in effect, rejecting the Bill altogether; for it would be quite impossible, at this late period of the Session, and under the present state of circumstances, to go into the whole Bill again. The usefulness of the Bill almost every noble Lord admitted. It would not be denied that a system of supervision was necessary; and those noble Lords who attached importance to the Bill of 1834 would, he knew, be cautious how they gave a vote which would be fatal to a measure by which the law of 1834 was to be efficiently administered. It was but too plain that in many parts of the country there was a tendency to the abuses which existed to such a fearful extent before the Bill of 1834 was passed; and if some such measure as the present was not passed, those abuses would become intolerable in the agricultural counties: in the south of England especially, there was so lax a supervision that many of those evils were apparent. The existence of the present superintendence would terminate in the next Session of Parliament; and he warned their Lordships of the consequences, if an electioneering cry were got up against the Poor Law. He feared that in too many instances Gentlemen anxious to secure popularity might join in that agitation; and his firm conviction was, that by throwing out this Bill they would in effect make the whole subject of Poor Law a question to be very seriously agitated at a very large proportion of the ensuing elections. They could not next year postpone the consideration of this question; and the new House of Commons might not be disposed to view it in the same light as the present one. They would be called upon to legislate upon this most grave and important subject. The Members of the other House being just fresh from the hustings, and, perhaps, having given pledges which, in his opinion, were contrary to the spirit of the Constitution—no one held a stronger opinion than himself upon the impropriety of these pledges—under such circumstances, therefore, considering the necessity of this Bill—looking at the future, and seeing how doubtful a matter it was that they would be able to get so good a Bill next Session as the present—considering that in the other clauses there was nothing exceptionable—considering that the Commons had already made concessions upon this Bill to this House; and thinking that the adoption of the clause would, after all, be productive of no great 677 practical evil or inconvenience, he called upon their Lordships, as friends of the law of 1834, to agree to the clause.
The EARL of RADNOR
said, the noble Earl who had just sat down called upon them to agree to this clause, and to pass this Bill, because in the next Session of Parliament, when the Members of the House of Commons came fresh from the elections to speak the voice of the people, it was not likely that a Bill so little objectionable as the present would be passed. The noble Earl talked about the unconstitutional nature of pledges; but he (the Earl of Radnor) confessed he did not think it very constitutional so to disregard the voice of the people. Their Lordships had already unanimously rejected this clause; and the noble Lord who proposed its rejection had not a word to say in its favour. The noble Earl recommended it because he thought it would produce but little mischief. But why should they insert a clause which would produce any mischief at all? Why should they insert a clause which they thought would not do good? He thought it would do great mischief—that it would relax that discipline which it was so necessary to maintain in the workhouses, and lead to all sorts of disorder and immorality. It would put it in the power of any "cantankersome" old couple to throw the whole workhouse into confusion and disorder. He would read a passage from the report of the Poor Law Commissioners on this very subject. The noble Lord then read a passage from a report signed by Sir F. Lewis, Mr. Lewis, jun., and Mr. Lefevre, in which it was stated that such indecency and immorality had occurred in workhouses where this privilege had been allowed, as were unfit to be mentioned in any public document. And where there were separate apartments provided for those couples, the result of the system showed that the ordinary workhouse rules could not be relaxed without leading to gross irregularity and improper intercourse between the sexes. The noble Lord went on to say that he was adverse to the introduction of the clause, because it would throw open the workhouses of this country to immorality and disorder, and be the first great step toward the breaking down of that discipline, order, and arrangement on which the existence of the present Poor Law depended. He trusted their Lordships would not so far forget what was due to themselves as to act contrary to their unanimous decision on a former occasion, 678 merely because the House of Commons told them to do so.
§ The DUKE of CLEVELAND
said, it had been stated that upon a former occasion this clause had been unanimously rejected. He was not present on that occasion else he would have publicly stated, as he now begged leave to do, his conscientious opinion, that the clause was a humane and a useful one, and ought to form a part of the Bill. It was with extreme regret he had learned that their Lordships had rejected that clause. He had some experience of the working of the Poor Law—he knew what the feelings of those old couples were, and how hard it was, after having lived together so long—after they had reared their children, when distress and poverty came upon them, to be separated from one another for the remainder of their days in a workhouse. A noble Lord had stated, that at present the boards of guardians had, with the concurrence of the Commissioners, power to grant this privilege; but he (the Duke of Cleveland) would rather see it a matter of right, for the sake of those poor old people, knowing, as he did, how very severely some boards of guardians acted. He was sorry to say that some of those boards acted in a very hard-hearted manner, and in many instances ought to feel ashamed of their conduct. Why should not, therefore, that discretion be taken out of their hands? Was it just or humane that the deserving old people, who, when no longer able to support themselves, and obliged to seek refuge in a workhouse, should be at the whim and caprice of a board of guardians, either to live together or to be separated for the remainder of their days? For these reasons he would support the Motion of the noble Marquess.
§ EARL FORTESCUE
said, it was with great regret he felt himself obliged upon this occasion to oppose his noble Friend near him, as he was decidedly adverse, upon principle, to the retention of the clause. He did not apprehend that the adoption of it would lead to much practical inconvenience; but it would form a most dangerous precedent, and be positively hurtful to the administration of the Poor Law. There were 626 unions in the kingdom; but they had returns from only 368: one-fourth of that number were in Middlesex county; and by far the greater number of them were not subject to the provisions of the New Poor Law, being governed by local Acts. In 155 there 679 were no married couples; and in 92 only one in each: in the whole 368 unions there were no more than 574 married couples. Therefore, he might say, there would be apparently no practical inconvenience from the adoption of the clause; but he thought it would be no sooner passed, than a great many married couples who were now living outside the doors of the workhouse, and receiving 2s. 6d. or 3s. parochial aid, and by their own industry supplying as much more as furnished subsistence, would crowd into the workhouse, and thus the rates would be heavily burdened, as well as the discipline of the workhouses necessarily relaxed. In fact, he thought its adoption would lead to the destruction of everything like common order and decency in the workhouses. He must, therefore, with whatever regret, oppose the introduction of the clause.
§ LORD REDESDALE
thought their Lordships had just reason to complain of the conduct of the Government; for, instead of standing up for what was right, they deferred to the wishes of those who, to obtain popularity, supported this clause in the House of Commons, and asked their Lordships to disagree to that to which they had already unanimously agreed. Accusations had been brought against the Government of abandoning measures; but he thought this one much more serious, for it was abandonment of principle. The whole thing had been got up for electioneering purposes. He, as the chairman of a board of guardians, knew well that the adoption of the clause would lead to the greatest inconvenience; and that, in short, under the provisions of it there would be no such thing as maintaining due discipline in workhouses.
§ LORD REDESDALE
Just so; and even if it had, why insert it if their Lordships thought it wrong or inexpedient, even supposing its rejection was to prove fatal to the Bill? But they had been told that a cry would be got up at the elections, and that pledges against the Poor Laws would be exacted from candidates; and these reasons were urged upon their Lordships to pass the present measure, and sanction the insertion of the clause. He thought such conduct highly unconstitutional. He entered his protest in the strongest manner against the Motion.
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
did not think it unconstitutional in that House 680 to show some deference to the opinion of the House of Commons, which the Constitution supposed to speak the feelings of the people. The noble Lord talked about the conduct of the Government. He needed not to tell the noble Lord that Government was not all-powerful in the House of Commons—that it could not command majorities when it pleased; and, therefore, they could not be altogether answerable for the conduct of that House. Indeed, so strong was the feeling of the House in favour of this clause, that upon the last occasion there was not one even to call for a division. It was carried unanimously. Noble Lords talked about the disorder the concession of the privilege which the clause conferred would occasion; but he begged to remind them that the same powers which now existed would continue to exist for the punishment of refractory persons in workhouses of whatever description. That power lay with the boards of guardians; and there was nothing in this Bill which would prevent its full and complete exercise.
§ LORD REDESDALE
explained. What he meant by saying that the Government had not acted constitutionally was, that they had asked their Lordships to consider that popular clamour which they themselves admitted to be wrong. The noble Marquess talked of the unanimity of the division in the House of Commons on the second occasion that this Bill came before them. It was that very unanimity of which he complained. Why did not one of the Colleagues of the noble Marquess in the other House move the rejection of the clause?
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
said, that he consented to the omission of the clause to give the House of Commons an opportunity of reconsidering the point. In doing so he thought he had acted wisely; and now that the Commons had reconsidered the question, and had displayed greater unanimity than before in favour of it, he thought he was acting equally wisely in asking their Lordships to concur in the re-insertion of the clause.
§ On Question not to insist, House divided:—Content 29; Not-Content 11: Majority 18.681
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§ Resolved in the affirmative; and Message sent to the Commons to acquaint them therewith.