§ On the Motion that the Bill be read 2a,
§ The EARL of ELLENBOROUGH
said, that this was one of the most mischievous Bills in principle which had ever been brought forward. By this Bill the Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant and the Under Secretary were practically the acting Commissioners for Ireland. Gentlemen accepted that office with a view to promotion, and were consequently changed with every 12 change of Administration or chance of promotion, instead of remaining sufficient time to gain practical information; and there was every reason to expect great diversity would take place in the application of the most important principle of out-door relief, according as the office was filled by different persons. Gentlemen of all parties ought to act as guardians; but the consequence of this law would be that only the friends of the Secretary would he selected. When the Public Works Act, expired this Bill would be totally inadequate to meet the emergency.
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
maintained that the guardians were appointed without reference to political opinions, and such was likely to continue to be the case. In his view it was extremely important that the head of the administrative department of such a law should be a person who was a Member of the Government and always in Parliament, and, therefore, responsible to the country.
said, that the effect of the measure before the House, would he to make the Irish Poor Law a department of the Government. It was contrary to all principle that an officer who was to have a salary of 2,000l a year, and who was to be connected with a department of such high importance, requiring his constant and especial superintendence—it was contrary to all principle that such an officer should be a Member of Parliament, and should be required to go out of power with the Government of the day. He could only say, that he viewed the recognition of such a principle with very great apprehension, and he should feel most reluctant to consent to it. As at present advised, he could not resist the arguments that he had just heard from his noble Friend near him. He thought that by this proposition these officers connected with the administration of the Poor Law would be liable, of necessity, to all the incidents of political animadversion. On the other hand, he admitted that there was a benefit to be gained by it, which was much wanted—namely, that of having a direct communication with the Government, and of having some person in Parliament who would he able to explain every matter connected with the Poor Law department of the country. But there were, on the other hand, these disadvantages, that everything done by the Poor Law Commissioners, or under their authority, became part of the proceedings of the Government of the day, 13 and, therefore, open to all the attacks which party motives might induce people to make upon the Ministers. If so, the department would be entitled to defence by the Government; for the one was a necessary consequence of the other. The Poor Law Commission would, therefore, be attacked by the enemies of the Government, and would be supported by them and their Friends; thus would the administration of the Poor Law be exposed to unceasing Parliamentary and public discussion. Nothing, he thought, could be more unfit for the discussions of Parliament and of Government than the particular allowance of meat or of clothes to this or that class of paupers. It was all very well to discuss these matters as a general principle; but from time to time, when complaints were made upon such matters, to make them the subjects of Parliamentary discussion in Parliament was as injudicious a proceeding as he could well fancy. In taking this view of the measure, he hoped it would not be thought that he was giving any factious opposition to the proposition of the Government. The objections he had made to the measure were founded upon his honest convictions.
§ EARL GREY
said, that he agreed in opinion with the noble and learned Lord that the principle of this measure was one of the greatest importance; he meant that principle which made the administration of the Poor Law more directly connected with the Ministers of the Crown for the time being. He was not surprised that the noble and learned Lord should entertain considerable objections to the change; but he thought it impossible that any Member of the other House of Parliament should have failed to see the mischief since 1834 arising from the introduction of discussions into Parliament under the existing state of things, and should not see the necessity for such a change of principle as that which they now proposed to adopt. Experience during past years had shown the great difficulty arising from the existing arrangements. Under the old system the Poor Law Commissioners were made subordinate to the Secretary of State, but yet those Commissioners wore not removable by his advice; consequently the Government, though in some degree responsible for the conduct of the Poor Law Commissioners, were not able to exercise over them a full control. Every point in the conduct of the Commissioners was discussed. Debates were constantly going on upon the subject 14 —all that had anything to do with the practical working of the system was brought under Parliamentary investigation; there was also an immense difficulty in the administration of the law, arising from the necessity of the Secretary of State applying to the Commissioners for information whenever he had any statement to make to the House; instead of coming with an intimate knowledge of the subject, he came down with cases prepared for him. How different his position from that of a man who was himself the author of the regulations or proceedings which were to come under discussion! The business to which the present Bill referred was strictly of an administrative character; and the noble and learned Lord opposite had frankly admitted the advantage likely to arise from agreeing to the Bill then before them. It was true enough that in matters of this kind it would be impossible altogether to get rid of party feeling; but an objection of that kind was one which applied equally to all the departments of the Government. The Home Secretary was called upon to administer, he might say, the whole criminal law of the country; but no exception was taken to his being a party man, and, practically, no one department was seized upon and made the object of party attacks. If any Opposition attacked a Government unfairly, the good sense of the people would support the Government, and soon put an end to such attacks. Every one connected with the business of Government for the last thirteen years must be convinced that the Bill now before the House was expedient and necessary.
§ The EARL of ST. GERMANS
asked how it could be expected that the Secretary for Ireland in his capacity of Poor Law Commissioner could be held responsible for the due performance of those duties, when they would require him, by the present measure, to absent himself for at least six months in the year, while Parliament was sitting, from the immediate superintendence of those duties.
The EARL of WICKLOW
did not like the course the debate had taken, by which it would appear that a principle which was deemed exceedingly objectionable as regarded this country, might very easily pass when Ireland was concerned. He would have much preferred that the Government had adopted the Amendment he had suggested when the Poor Law Bill passed—that none of the important functions of the Poor Law Commissioners should be exer- 15 cised without the approbation and consent of the Lord Lieutenant. He thought it exceedingly objectionable that the two Secretaries should be joint Commissioners. He most decidedly protested against the monstrous powers it was proposed to vest in a single Commissioner.
§ LORD WHARNCLIFFE
observed, that the case of the two countries was by no means the same; for in Ireland the Chief Secretary was absent the greater part of his time; and, besides, his duties were of so onerous a description, that he could not efficiently discharge those of a Poor Law Commissioner in addition. The result would be, that the whole of the duties and the power would devolve upon a single individual, namely, the third Commissioner. He did not think that was a judicious principle to adopt, because the result would be, that the administration of the affairs of the poor would he conducted in the manner that had been deemed so objectionable in that country. That would certainly be a retrograde movement, and one which he thought very objectionable.
§ After a few words from EARL FITZWILLIAM,
The EARL of LUCAN
also expressed his disapproval of the principle of placing the whole of the responsibility in the hands of a single individual, as the present Bill would do. The addition of the two Secretaries was a mere delusion, as they would take no part in the management of the Commission; and on the whole, he thought it one of the most objectionable measures that had ever been brought before Parliament.
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
was understood to say, that he had no objection to postpone the further consideration of the question for some time, with the understanding that the Bill was then read a second time pro formâ. He would take care that noble Lords had ample opportunity afforded them of expressing their opinions on the measure, by fixing the Committee for a distant day.
§ The EARL of ELLENBOROUGH
objected to the second reading being then taken, as it pledged the House to the principle of the measure. It would be more regular of the noble Marquess to postpone the second reading for ten days or a fortnight, and in so doing no time would be lost.
§ After a few words of explanation from the MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE,
§ Bill read 2a