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Powers and Duties of the Central Board - Nassau William Senior, Poor Law Commissioners’ Report of 1834 
Poor Law Commissioners’ Report of 1834. Copy of the Report made in 1834 by the Commissioners for Inquiring into the Administration and Practical Operation of the Poor Laws. Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of His Majesty (London: Printed for H.M. Stationery Off. by Darling and Son, 1905).
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Powers and Duties of the Central Board
Although such is the general tenor of the evidence, we cannot state that there may not be some districts where new workhouses would be found requisite, but we have no doubt that where this does occur, the erection of appropriate edifices, though apparently expensive, would ultimately be found economical. Under a system of district management the workhouses might be supplied under one contract at wholesale prices. Mr. Mott states, that if 500 persons cost 10l. per head, or 5,000l.; 1,000 persons would cost only 9l. per head, or 9,000l.; He also states, that there would be no more difficulty in managing five or six combined workhouses than five or six separate wards or rooms in one house. Considerable economy would also be practicable in combined workhouses, by varying the nature of the supplies. In the smaller workhouses the children receive nearly the same diet as the adults; if they were separated they might receive a diet both cheaper and more wholesome.
TO EFFECT THESE PURPOSES WE RECOMMEND THAT THE CENTRAL BOARD BE EMPOWERED TO CAUSE ANY NUMBER OF PARISHES WHICH THEY MAY THINK CONVENIENT TO BE INCORPORATED FOR THE PURPOSE OF WORKHOUSE MANAGEMENT, AND FOR PROVIDING NEW WORKHOUSE WHERE NECESSARY, TO DECLARE THEIR WORKHOUSES TO BE THE COMMON WORKHOUSES OF THE INCORPORATED DISTRICT, AND TO ASSIGN TO THOSE WORKHOUSES SEPARATE CLASSES OF POOR, THOUGH COMPOSED OF THE POOR OF DISTINCT PARISHES, EACH DISTINCT PARISH PAYING TO THE SUPPORT OF THE PERMANENT WORKHOUSE ESTABLISHMENT, IN PROPORTION TO THE AVERAGE AMOUNT OF THE EXPENSE INCURRED FOR THE RELIEF OF ITS POOR, FOR THE THREE PREVIOUS YEARS, AND PAYING SEPARATELY FOR THE FOOD AND CLOTHING OF ITS OWN PAUPERS.
The power of incorporation for workhouse purposes appears to us to be absolutely necessary. It also appears to us that parishes may be beneficially incorporated for some other purposes. As this opinion depends in some measure on a further opinion that extended management is in certain points and withen certain limits economical, and as this opinion is at variance with a prevalent impression in favour of the general economy of small districts, we shall support it at some length. In the minds of many, management on a large scale, and large establishments, are associated with large expenses and general profusion: where every thing is magnified, abuses, which, though greater in proportion, would have been imperceptible on a smaller scale, become visible and striking; but we find that in the small parishes the expense per head of the persons entitled to relief is generally the greatest, and that, although the actual burthen per pound on the rental is often small, that is effected, not by diminishing but by shifting and often aggravating the real burthen, by destroying cottages, preventing settlements, and driving the labourers into the adjoining district. The following answer by Mr. Mott both states the comparative economy of the larger parishes, and accounts for it. He was asked,—
"What would be the effect of dividing Lambeth into as many independent parishes as there are in the city of London?"
"The chief effects which appear to me to be likely to ensue are, that we should have ninety-six imperfect establishments instead of one; ninety-six sources of peculation instead of one; ninety-six sets of officers to be imposed upon by paupers instead of one set; ninety-six sources of litigation and of expense for removals and disputed settlements instead of one; and ninety-six modes of rating instead of one.
"It appears that the 96 city parishes, (many of which are extremely wealthy, and lightly burthened with poor) with a population of 55,000, expended for the relief of the poor, in the year 1831, 64,000l. Lambeth, with 32,000 more people, and many densely-peopled districts containing very poor people, expended on the relief of the poor only 37,000l. during the same year. In the wealthy parishes of the city of London, the money annually paid as poor's-rates amounted to 1l. 3s. 3 1/4d. per head; whilst in Lambeth the amount annually paid is 8s. 6d. and a fraction per head. The adults of Lambeth parish are now supported in the workhouse at 3s. 11d. a week per head; whilst in the city of London, the greater proportion of all classes of poor, including children, are farmed out at an expense of from 4s. 6d. to 7s. each, and the expense of those maintained in the small city workhouses varies from 5s. to 8s. per head per week for all classes."
The following is a recapitulation of an examination of the comparative expense of the poor's-rates per head, in the largest, the least, and the intermediate sized parishes; comprehending all the parishes from which we have received returns, belonging to the first seven counties, taken in alphabetical order, referred to in our Supplement.
Of all England,—
The 100 absolutely largest parishes, containing a population of 3,196,064, give 6d. 7s. per head.
The 100 intermediate parishes, containing a population of 19,841, give 15s. per head.
The 100 least parishes, from which Poor Rates Returns are made, with a population of 1,708, give 1l. 11s. 11 1/2d. per head.
The 100 intermediate parishes are of the size of which there is the greatest number, and where the population is not too large, to allow the parish officers to obtain a personal knowledge of the individuals relieved.
We have no recent returns of proportions of paupers in the parishes referred to in the preceding statement; but on referring to the Parliamentary Returns of the number of paupers in each parish in the years 1803 and 1813, it appears that the number of persons relieved in the large and small parishes bears some proportion to their relative amount of rates. In the three hundred parishes of which the comparative amount of the poor's-rates on the population has been stated, the
The economy of extended management in the rural districts, is also proved by the evidence derived from the incorporated hundreds. These hundreds are, on the whole, distinguished by the economy and general superiority of their administration, as compared with the unincorporated hundreds. From a comparison of the expense of the eight unincorporated hundreds of Suffolk with the expense of the nine incorporated hundreds of the same county, making the calculation on the basis of the real property assessment of 1815, it appears that the expense of maintaining the poor, during the years from 1824 to 1831, was 53 per cent. in favour of the incorporated hundreds.
Captain Pringle, who appears to have examined carefully the administration of the poor's-rate in the Isle of Wight, the whole of which is incorporated, shows that notwithstanding much general ill management, the result, after a trial of 60 years, is greatly in favour of incorporation. On a comparison of the amount of property assessed in the year 1815, with the amount of rates raised in the year 1829, it appears that the rate per pound for the whole county was 3s. 6d.; for the county exclusive of the island 3s. 8d.; for the island exclusive of the rest of the county, 1s. 10d. In this incorporation, however, litigation about settlements and the expense of removals are almost entirely avoided74 .
Much of the saving is attributable to the efficiency of the officers of the incorporations, and to the more methodical transaction of their business. Mr. Meadows White, a solicitor of great experience in the management of incorporated hundreds, states that each of the parishes incorporated in Blything hundred for less than 10l. per annum. obtains for the management of the in-door poor the services of a
If it were possible that the several functions performed by each of these officers could be performed by any one person, at least five times the amount of money paid by each of the parishes incorporated would be requisite to obtain the services of such a person. But it is obviously impossible that one officer could execute these functions: the performance of the duties of the school-master or matron of the workhouse imply a neglect of the duties of the school, in which it appears that there are rarely less than 100 or 120 children; neither could the business of the superintendent of the pauper labour, nor the business of the clerk (an attorney, whose salary includes the remuneration for all his attendances, journeys and law business in the county) be performed unless at the expense of other duties.
In the establishments of the larger parishes, whilst there is great gain in efficiency by the division of labour, there is also frequently gain by the concentration of labour where it may be concentrated without interfering with the performance of other equally important duties. One of the assistant-overseers of Lambeth parish, in reciting his duties, states,—
"Besides inquiring into the cases of applicants for relief, I inquire into the cases of the non-payment of poor's-rate, and whether the neglect or refusal proceeds from inability to pay, or from any other causes, and I report the same to the overseers. It is also my duty to inform the vestry-clerk of all houses newly erected in the parish, and of all houses, noted in the rate-book as empty, which have become inhabited; I report them in order that they may be assessed to the rate; I enter this in a book kept for the purpose, and called the Draught-book. This serves as a check on the collectors and on overseers, who, from favouritism or other causes, might be disposed to overlook the houses of friends. The overseers or parish officers may be persons in business who are desirous of favouring friends. By imposing these duties on the assistant-overseers, who have to traverse districts for purposes relating to the paupers, they are performed at a very little additional expense, as it is all done under one head. I find frequently that when I am inquiring of a person about a house, he can also give me information with relation to a pauper."
To these advantages may be added the greater facility of obtaining securities against embezzlement.
One of the most prominent suggestions of those who have written on Poor-Law amendment, is compelling the adoption of a uniform and well-arranged system of accounts, a provision which they often appear to consider a sufficient check on peculation. There can be no doubt that arrangements to insure completeness, clearness, uniformity and publicity of parochial accounts are as requisite in this as in any other department of public administration. WE RECOMMEND, THEREFORE, THAT THE CENTRAL BOARD BE EMPOWERED AND REQUIRED TO TAKE MEASURES FOR THE GENERAL ADOPTION OF A COMPLETE, CLEAR, AND, AS FAR AS MAY BE PRACTICABLE, UNIFORM SYSTEM OF ACCOUNTS. But it appears to us that new arrangements as to the mode of transacting the business in question and the establishment of self-acting checks (which are partly independent of accounts) are equally requisite. It is one advantage of management on a large scale, that it admits of these arrangements and securities, without any increase of expense. Thus, in the incorporated hundreds, there are six distinct functionaries for the collection and the expenditure of the rates. 1. The assessments are fixed by the Board of Guardians. They are collected by, 2, the Overseers of the several parishes incorporated, who are compelled under a penalty to pay within a certain time to, 3, the Treasurer, the money collected. The latter gives security. 4. The Clerk of the incorporation receives the commodities supplied, and enters an account of them into the stock-book. 5. The Governor of the workhouse attends to the distribution of the goods supplied, and is answerable for it. 6. It is the duty of the Visiting Guardian to see that the goods received are in conformity to the contracts, and, in fact, to act as a check on the two last-mentioned officers. In the parishes of the unincorporated districts, one person, the overseer, is usually assessor, collector, treasurer and distributor, and the checks derived from the performance of the business by separate individuals are lost.
Similar advantages to those of the incorporations are possessed by the larger parishes.
Here then the parish being large, the business of collecting and distributing the fund is managed by five different hands, exclusive of the workhouse-keeper and other assistant officers. The following is the account which the vestry-clerk gives of one simple expedient by which a check is obtained against peculation in the distribution of the casual relief.
Mr. Watmore, Vestry Clerk of Lambeth; Examined.
"Each overseer relieves the casual poor in cases within his district, which are cases of necessity; and this relief is by a little printed ticket on the clerk of the workhouse. The overseer relieving signs his name and the amount on the ticket, and this serves as a voucher for every one, the smallest item.
"Before the establishment of the checks, I have known casual poor obtain relief from the whole eight overseers. Frauds have been committed with the tickets; one woman was prosecuted for increasing the amount of the ticket, but frauds in this way cannot be very extensive. I see every day the benefits of this check as regards officers as well as the applicants, and I can see no reason why it should not be adopted in other parishes. In our parish the overseers neither receive nor pay any money; the collectors are bound to pay in every week to the bankers the money collected; we have eight collectors, with securities of 1000l. each."
Some large parishes, however, neglect these precautions, and commit to one person the whole distribution of the rates. In one case the overseer draws from the treasurer a sum of money which he distributes at his discretion; in another, the money is paid into the hands of several overseers who severally distribute it as they think proper, and account for it at the end of the year; the only check being their honour. It appears, however, that this check is not always sufficient, and that cases occur in which the officers mix fictitious names in the crowd of items, and overcharge the sums paid to real characters; thus, where 1s. 3d. has been given, 1s. 9d. is charged; where 1s. 6d. has been given, 2s. or 2s. 6d. is often charged. The following portions of the examination of the parish officers of Bethnal Green show the danger of omitting proper checks.
The Parish Officers of Bethnal Green; Examined.
"Mr. Bunn.—The overseers do not pay by ticket, but pay money out of their own pockets, which they charge to the parish, and account for the money at the end of the quarter; my last weekly account of the casual relief for one division was 27l. odd; this was paid away in shillings and sixpences. It is paid in advance for the quarter, and we receive no interest for the outlay.
"Has this been the usual course of proceeding for years past?—I believe it is; there has been no alteration.
"Is this expenditure discretional with the annual overseer?—Yes, the casual relief is.
"Does he frequently sit alone, or is he assisted by other parish officers?—On Thursdays and Saturdays we sit alone, unless some governor by chance drops in in the course of the day, but generally we sit alone.
"And are you not regularly assisted by any permanent officer?—No, we are not assisted by any one.
"Do you not find that you are frequently imposed upon?—In spite of all an annual officer can do, we are frequently imposed upon. There were 400 new faces for me to pay the first night I sat. I had no one to assist me or to inform me, and I gave money away on the mere statements made to me. I am confident that I paid some of the people twice over that night.
"Have you had overseers serving more than one year?—Mr. Davis.—Yes. Since I have been in office, two have served three years, and one two years.
"Have you had others who have been desirous of serving?—Mr. Davis.—Those who last served were known to have been desirous of serving again.
"What reason did they allege for being desirous of serving again?—Mr. Davis.—I do not know.
"Mr. Bunn.—For my own part I would have gladly paid to have been excused. I have offered 60l. to be excused from serving after I was in office; I also offered to put down 50l. as a subscription to extricate the parish from its difficulties, but not a soul followed my example. I was offered by my predecessors, when I entered into office, to have my duties performed for me, but this offer I declined, as I must have been responsible for all monies.
"Can you judge or state what you suppose to have been the object of the parties in again serving so burdensome an office?—I know their object, Sir, but that I must, if you please, decline stating.
"Have there been any cases of malversation in your parish?—Never, that I am aware of.
"Nor any suspicions or rumours of malversation prevalent in the parish?—There have been such rumours.
"Have there been no grounds for such rumours?—I do not know of any of my knowledge, and cannot speak to them.
"Are you ready to swear that you know of no grounds?—All that I can say is, that the expenditure this year is less than it was last year; I cannot say how that was.
"But in a parish like yours, where there are a number of small tradesmen, whose credit is not very good, and where large sums pass through the hands of parish officers, with considerable opportunities for malversation on the part of any one who has the inclination, is not the parish exposed to very considerable danger unless a prudent choice be made?—Certainly. I have heard such persons boast that if they were in office they would take care of themselves."
Mr. Masterman, another parish officer of Bethnal Green; Examined.
"What other opportunities has the system afforded for considerable malversation?—The payment of the casual poor, and the out-door relief, affords very great opportunities for fraud on the parts of the overseers, as well as the paupers, but I cannot say that I know of any instances. I suggested the payment by tickets, but the suggestion was not adopted.
"What is the popular opinion on this subject?—That to be an overseer and take care of the poor is a very good thing.
"On what grounds has that opinion been founded?—They have seen a person's condition greatly improved after having served the office of overseer; they have seen this take place without seeing any increase in his business, and without having heard or known of any money having been left to him; having, in short, no ostensible reason except that he has been in office.
"Is the remark common?—Yes, it is."
In the smaller parishes the state of things is still worse. There one officer collects and distributes, and unless he have some personal adversary who inspects the accounts, and objects to them, this officer really accounts to no one, for the audit by the magistrates is confessedly a form.
Many parishes have been agitated by contests to obtain publicity of accounts; these accounts have accordingly been published, and peace has ensued; but the statements published leave the satisfied rate-payers almost as much in the dark as ever.
The items are usually published in the following form:—
The parishioner knows not from such items what was the character of the purchases; whether 3s. or 7s. per pair was paid for shoes, if any were included in the general item Clothing. If the account were made out in detail, the other shoemakers or the other bakers of the parish might judge of the reasonableness of the charges; but even these details would still leave room for fraud in the misstatement of the quantity of goods supplied, and as to the actual consumption of the whole quantity supplied.
We consider, therefore, that any uniform and good system of accounts would not of itself suffice, unless the operations or the mode of doing business were clearly arranged. One system of accounts might be prescribed to the two parishes, Lambeth and Bethnal Green: it might be required in both, that every item of casual relief given should be entered in the accounts; but whilst in Lambeth the security against fraud, derived from the checks arising from the method of doing business, would, perhaps, be found nearly complete, in Bethnal Green the accounts would afford little or no security whatever; the names of the parties alleged to have been relieved may be fictitious; the amount of the payments may be misstated; and yet the accounts may, primâ facie, afford to the auditor no means of detection. Clearness does not ensure truth. Captain Pringle, who has had much experience in the examination of the accounts of commissaries, states that he generally found that the greatest peculators had the clearest accounts. Clear accounts, then, must be based on good arrangements of the modes of transacting business. Uniformity as to some points in the modes of keeping accounts would be of great service for the purpose of comparing the detailed expenditure of one district with another, and would form a necessary means of any general system of management, but the same forms in every point cannot suit every parish. The forms requisite in Mary-le-bone, containing 122,206 inhabitants, would be unsuited to the 1657 parishes, containing, collectively, only 122,170 inhabitants, and managed by 1657 different sets of officers.
The sources of peculation will be to a great extent extirpated by the abolition of money-payments; by the supply of goods on public contract, under proper securities, and by the adoption of the checks rendered practicable by more extended management. In a large proportion of the smaller parishes, it would be requisite to obtain in each the services of a good book-keeper. In the larger establishments this is accomplished without difficulty, and at a comparatively trivial expense; one set of books serves instead of forty or fifty sets; and the officers of the establishment are usually competent to the task of keeping them.
A further advantage of extended districts arises from the comparative facility of providing for the paupers' useful employment. Opportunities for such employment are wanting in many parishes; in others, exist in forms too large to be undertaken; and in still more numerous instances exist uselessly, in consequence of the jealousies which always act most powerfully in small neighbourhoods. It appears that one of the first preliminary measures must be the preparing for the able-bodied more of this employment than we believe that they will accept.
Employment of some kind can, indeed, be always provided, but it appears to us that it ought to be useful employment. Parish officers, whilst they have had sufficient labour of this description before their doors, in their unwillingness or their inability to take upon themselves the trouble of superintendence, or to make any immediate pecuniary sacrifice for the purpose of enforcing the performance of that labour, have resorted to the expedient of sending paupers on fictitious errands, with baskets full of stones, or blank paper directed as letters, and other devices of the same nature, obviously intended to torment them. Such contrivances are pernicious in the revengeful feelings which they generate in the minds of the paupers themselves, and they are also pernicious in exciting sympathy in behalf of the indolent and vicious, and in the obstacles which they create to the use of legitimate labour and salutary discipline. We believe that they ought to be carefully prevented. The association of the utility of labour to both parties, the employer as well as the employed, is one which we consider it most important to preserve and strengthen; and we deem everything mischievous which unnecessarily gives to it a repulsive aspect. At the same time we believe that in extended districts the requisite sources of employment will be easily found. The supply of the articles consumed in workhouses and prisons would afford a large outlet for the manufactures carried on in the house; and, with respect to out-door employment, it is probable that there are few districts to which such evidence as that contained in the following extracts would not be applicable. Mr. William Winkworth, overseer of the parish of St. Mary's, Reading, whilst advocating the necessity of the incorporation of the parishes in that town, states,—
"The town, for example, wants draining. We have brickmakers, and carpenters, and other labourers on the parish receiving relief; and the whole town might be well drained by the labour of these paupers, at the expense of materials only; bricks, wood, mortar, and sand. This, however, is a work which the parishes cannot, or will not, undertake separately; it is prevented by petty jealousies and dissensions, and the want of able officers to direct the work of the paupers. The owners of premises well situated and well drained, say. 'Drainage is a benefit to the owners of the property, and we do not see why we should be called upon to contribute money for their benefit.' The owners of the houses where the drainage is most wanted, say, 'We can get no rents to pay for the work, and the nuisances which are caused by the want of it must therefore continue.' No account is taken of the necessity of finding work of any sort for the able-bodied paupers; nothing can be done with the separate parishes governed by open vestries, no cordial co-operation can be got, and the benefit of considerable labour is lost. As the surveyor of the road from this town to Basingstoke, and also of the road from hence to Shillingford, I can state, from my observation of the several parishes (nineteen in number) through which these roads pass, that very considerable labour might be found, under good direction, in improving their private roads. This is an instance of the sort of work which might frequently be found for paupers. In some of the parishes the roads are kept in very good order, but this is mere accident; whilst in the immediately adjoining parishes more money will be expended, and the roads will nevertheless be in so bad a state that the parish is indictable for them. The farmers steadily adhere to their old practices, and never willingly conform to any improvements; they employ waggons where carts would serve much better; they throw down on the roads materials totally inapplicable, and think they can mend them with big loose stones, which stones would really be useful if they were broken up."
The Rev. James Randall, rector of Binfield, Berks, states—
"In this parish I think the poor might be beneficially employed in making roads; the parish having been lately inclosed, many cottages and many fields are only approachable by drift ways, which are mere green lanes, almost impassable in winter, the soil being a stiff clay. The inhabitants of these houses are consequently cut off from the village, and remain in a very uncivilized state. It would be a public benefit to turn these lanes into good roads; but the vestry will never agree to such a measure, unless under legislative compulsion, because it would require an immediate outlay, from which temporary occupiers would derive no advantage, and also because the chief benefit, after all, would be to the cottagers, not to the large rate-payers."
Mr. Villiers states that an opinion was expressed to him—
"By many different persons, that from the present state of the communication in many parts of the county of Worcester, that if the roads were placed under any general system of superintendence, and properly attended to, assuming that the same number of paupers as at present should remain dependent upon their parishes, that employment for the five next years at least might be found for them, and with the greatest advantage to the county, a fact which is worth considering, if an immediate change in the system of maintaining the poor is contemplated."
WE FURTHER RECOMMEND, THEREFORE, THAT THE CENTRAL BOARD BE EMPOWERED TO INCORPORATE PARISHES FOR THE PURPOSE OF APPOINTING AND PAYING PERMANENT OFFICERS, AND FOR THE EXECUTION OF WORKS OF PUBLIC LABOUR.
We must not, however, conceal our fear, that the appointment of efficient permanent officers will be difficult.
Those only who have a full knowledge of the peculiar nature of the duties to be performed would be qualified to judge of the fitness of the agents to perform them; a knowledge which, as it does not influence the daily practice, can scarcely be presumed to exist in the districts where abusive systems prevail. In the dispauperized parishes the appointment of fitting officers was found to be attended with great difficulty, and was rarely accomplished without opposition. The person appointed as the permanent overseer and master of the workhouse at Hatfield had been a drill-serjeant and paymaster-serjeant in the Coldstream Guards. One of the witnesses states,—
"That the parish was entirely indebted for the change to the talents and personal energy applied to the work by the Marquis of Salisbury, and to the peculiar personal qualifications of the person appointed by him to serve the office of permanent overseer. This appointment would never have been made had the matter been left in the hands of the ratepayers at large. Many of them openly said that a stranger ought not to be brought into the parish; that they ought to appoint a person from amongst themselves, some poor person, who wanted a comfortable home; when the duties of the office required a person of peculiar firmness and habits of command, and were such as ninety-nine out of a hundred in the parish would have been unable to execute75 ."
The success of this appointment occasioned similar appointments to be made in some adjacent parishes where the larger proprietors attempted to amend the administration. The Hon. and Rev. Robert Eden states, that in Hertingfordbury.
"A permanent overseer was appointed, who was also to collect the rates in the adjoining parishes of Bayford and Little Berkhampstead, and to keep the accounts, and superintend the men employed at parish work. He had been a pay-serjeant in the Guards; his appointment was opposed chiefly on the ground of his being a stranger76 ."
The Rev. Ralph Clutton, curate of Welwyn, states,—
"A permanent overseer has been appointed, who is also the governor of the poor-house; he was serjeant in the Coldstream Guards, a married man, and not a parishioner. It is to the efficiency of himself and his wife that the success of the undertaking thus far must in a great measure be attributed. His chief qualifications are firmness, order, clearness and accuracy in his accounts, unconquerable resolution and integrity; and on the part of his wife, extraordinary cleanliness, and a sincere desire to better the condition of those (especially the young) under her care77 ."
The wife herself stated "that the selection of her husband had excited great displeasure, because it was considered that none but a parishioner ought to have been appointed." In Waltham, where some improvements were carried into effect,—
"A permanent overseer has been appointed, who is also governor of the workhouse, but is not a parishioner: having been in the army, his qualifications for the discipline and management of the workhouse, by the aid of that order, regularity, and system in which he had been there initiated, together with a perfect ability as to the arrangement and keeping of the accounts, are his merits. Dissatisfaction was manifested to this appointment: the principal objections were his being a stranger, and not a parishioner78 ."
The statement of Mr. Richard Gregory, of Spitalfields, is characteristic of the circumstances under which the permanent officers are frequently appointed in the town parishes:—
"Might not paid and responsible officers be elected by the parishioners?—He answers, No; I think you would never get such offices well filled, unless it was by accident. The people have no conception of what sort of men are requisite to perform properly the duties of a parish officer. If such a situation were vacant, what sort of a man would apply for it? Why, some decayed tradesman; some man who had got a very large family, and had been 'unfortunate in business,' which, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, means a man who has not had prudence or capacity to manage his own affairs; and this circumstance is usually successful in any canvass for a parish situation to manage the affairs of the public. Men who have before been in office for the parish would obtain a preference. And what sort of men are those who would be likely to be at liberty to accept a vacant situation? The situations of overseer and churchwarden are by some considered situations of dignity, and dignity always attracts fools. I have known numbers of small tradesmen who were attracted by 'the dignity of the office,' and succeeded in getting made overseers and churchwardens. Their elevation was their downfall. They have not given their minds to their own business as before. The consequence of this was that they have lost their business and have been ruined. Now and then a good man of business will be desirous of taking office when he thinks he is slighted, or has had an affront put upon him by being overlooked; but in general, any man in decent business must know, if he has the brains of a goose, that it will be much better for him, in a pecuniary point of view, to pay the fine than serve. I could name from fifteen to twenty people in our parish, who have been entirely ruined by being made churchwardens. These would be the people who would succeed best in parochial or district elections; for the people would say of any one of them, 'Poor man, he has ruined himself by serving a parish office, and the only recompense we can give him is to put him in a paid office.' This always has been the general course of parish elections, and I have no doubt would always continue to be so. There is infinitely more favouritism in parish appointments than in government appointments. In appointments by the government there is frequently some notion of fitness; but in the case of parish appointments, fitness is out of the question. When I was the treasurer of the watch department of the parish, I took great interest in the management of the police of the district, and determined to make it efficient. You would conceive that the inhabitants would have been so guided by their own apparent interests, as to get active men appointed, but I had solicitations from some of the first and most respectable houses in the parish to take their old and decayed servants and put them on the watch. I had also applications from the parish officers to put men up on the watch who were in the workhouse. As I was determined to make the police efficient, I resolutely resisted all these applications.79 ."
It is also clear that such officers should be selected as would not be biassed by local interests or partialities. The most fitting persons must often, as in the instances we have cited, be sought for in distant districts, and, cæteris paribus, would be preferable to persons within the same districts.
These premises appear to lead to a conclusion that the Central Board ought to be empowered to appoint the permanent and salaried officers in all parishes, or at least in those which they should incorporate. But we do not venture such a recommendation. In the first place, because we doubt the power of a single Board to select a sufficient number of well-qualified persons; secondly, because such a duty would occupy too much of their time and attention; and, thirdly, because the patronage, though really a painful incumbrance to them, would be a source of public jealousy. But believing that, after all, more will depend, as more always has depended, on the administration of the law than on the words of its enactments, and that the good or bad administration will mainly rest on the selection of the inferior administration will mainly rest on the selection of the inferior administrators, we think that no security for good appointments should be neglected, and no means of preventing the effects of bad appointmentsomitted. We think that the first object might be aided, if the Commissioners were directed to prescribe some general qualifications, in the absence of which no person should be eligible as a salaried officer, and we think that the number of competent persons who must in time come under their observation would enable them frequently to assist parishes and incorporations by recommending proper candidates; we also think that they might, to a great degree, both aid and support the well-disposed, and prevent the continuance in office of improper persons, if they were invested with the power of removing them. Some of the ablest of the permanent officers who have been examined under the authority of this Commission, have urged that they ought to be immediately responsible to the authority whose regulations they are to enforce; that it ought to be obvious that they really have no discretion, that the rule of duty is inflexible, and that, if they violate or neglect it, suspension or dismissal must be the consequence. If the permanent officers continue responsible only to the annual officers or to the vestry, a screen will be interposed between the Central Board and the actual administrators of relief, which will encourage and protect every form of malversation.
WE RECOMMEND, THEREFORE, THAT THE CENTRAL BOARD BE DIRECTED TO STATE THE GENERAL QUALIFICATIONS WHICH SHALL BE NECESSARY TO CANDIDATES FOR PAID OFFICES CONNECTED WITH THE RELIEF OF THE POOR, TO RECOMMEND TO PARISHES AND INCORPORATIONS PROPER PERSONS TO ACT AS PAID OFFICERS, AND TO REMOVE ANY PAID OFFICERS WHOM THEY SHALL THINK UNFIT FOR THEIR SITUATIONS.
The alteration of some portions of the existing law with respect to contracts for the supply of food and other necessaries to the workhouses will be requisite to protect the public from continued jobbing, fraud and mismanagement. The extensive prevalence of these evils is indicated not only by the direct testimony contained in our Appendix, but by the recurrence in the answers to our circulated Query as to the propriety of giving relief in kind, of apprehensions of peculation. Such an alteration is necessary also in order to facilitate a change, which in many districts will be more strenuously opposed by the few who will lose, than supported by the many who will gain by more rigid management. Private interest, often apparently inconsiderable, has always created the strongest and the most successful opposition to improvement. The Hon. and Rev. Robert Eden states,—
"In the year 1827 I endeavoured to unite, under Sturges Bourne's Act, the parishes of Hertingfordbury, Essendon, Little Berkhampstead and Bayford. Could I have succeeded, we should have built a central workhouse, and have had under superintendence a population of 2000 persons, and been able to pay a really efficient officer. My plan failed, partly from the lukewarmness of the landowners, from the unwillingness of the occupiers (being tenants at will) to contribute to the formation of a new building, and from the opposition of the tradesmen of the various parishes, who were employed occasionally in the old repairs of the old workhouses, but had no chance of getting the tender for building the new."
In Cookham and other parishes, as soon as the general benefits of improved management had become apparent, a renewed opposition was organized by publicans and beer-shop keepers, who found that they were losers by the frugality created among their customers. In many instances, the profusion which prevails in the workhouse management has been directly traced to the tradesmen who took the most active part in the parochial business.
Mr. Richmond, one of the guardians of the poor in St. Luke's parish, Middlesex, states,—
"When I came into office it was a recognized principle, that the purchase of commodities for parochial consumption should be confined to the tradesmen of the parish. The effects of the patronage incident to the purchase of goods to the amount of upwards of 20,000l. per annum from shopkeepers within the parish, patronage exercised by a board who are themselves shopkeepers or connected with shopkeepers, may well be conceived. For several years I have contended, but unsuccessfully, for the universal application of the principle, that contracts should be taken from those who made the lowest tenders, wherever they resided, provided they gave the requisite securities for the due performance of the contract. On investigating the purchases of goods within the parish, I found that some of the charges were upwards of forty per cent. above the market prices. Whatever opposition may be made against an extensive or efficient reform or generalization of the management of the funds for the relief of the poor, will be based on the retention of the parochial patronage and power, although such a motive will never be ostensibly avowed. I have no doubt they will even assume that extended management will be more profuse than their own."
What may be expected is also indicated in the following extract from the evidence collected by Mr. Codd:—
"Before we had a select vestry, it was not unusual for our overseers to be quite willing to take the office, and even to continue in it for more than one year; and it was well understood, that this was because they had the means of spending money on behalf of the parish with their neighbours, or with whom they pleased. Since the establishment of the select vestry, however, we purchase every thing by open contracts, and the consequence has been, that our rates are 25 per cent. at least below what they were prior to the formation of the select vestry. Our tradesmen now cry out against being exclusively called upon to serve as overseers, and they have said, that they will insist upon having the gentry included with themselves."
WE RECOMMEND, THAT THE CENTRAL BOARD BE EMPOWERED TO DIRECT THE PAROCHIAL CONSUMPTION TO BE SUPPLIED BY TENDER AND CONTRACT, AND TO PROVIDE THAT THE COMPETITION BE PERFECTLY FREE.
This will prevent much indirect fraud. Direct embezzlement must also be guarded against more effectually than while left to voluntary prosecution. It is vain to expect men to proceed, on public grounds, against their own neighbours, friends, or connexions. It is to local influence, not to the absence of peculation, that we ascribe the rarity of prosecutions against parochial defaulters; and the prosecutions which do take place are often attributed, truly or falsely, to private motives, and public sympathy becomes enlisted in favour of the criminal.
WE RECOMMEND, THAT THE CENTRAL BOARD BE EMPOWERED AND REQUIRED TO ACT IN SUCH CASES AS PUBLIC PROSECUTORS.
The pecuniary loss by bad management, or the pecuniary gain from good management, are of course insignificant when weighed against the moral evils of the existing system. It will be necessary, however, to guard sedulously against pecuniary mismanagement, as it is usually a primary cause of the extension of pauperism, and we trust that it will be found that the measures which we have proposed, though recommended by us chiefly as beneficial to the labouring classes, will also be found the means of pecuniary saving.
Not one instance has been met with where a permanent increase of expenditure has followed any moderately well directed efforts to repress abusive modes of administration. Where select vestries have been established, and a strict management has been introduced, even under the existing law, the expenses have been reduced by an amount seldom less than one-third. In the dis-pauperized parishes, the real reduction has seldom been less than half the expense. In Durham and Cumberland, paupers are kept well and contented, at a weekly expense of 1s. 6d. per head for food. In most of the southern counties the expense varies from 3s. 6d. to 4s. 6d., 5s., and 6s. per head. The average is probably not less than 4s. per head; the expense may in all probability be reduced to 2s. per head, the common expenditure of a labourer's family, and the legitimate objects of relief be much better provided for. The whole evidence proves that if a Central Board be appointed, consisting of fit persons, and armed with powers to carry into general effect the measures which have been so successful wherever they have been tried, the expenditure for the relief of the poor will in a very short period be reduced by more than one-third.
From the metropolis, from the provincial towns, and indeed from nearly every district, complaints have been received that large classes of persons, who obtain, during particular seasons, such wages as would enable them to maintain themselves and their families until the return of the season of work, and provide by insurance against sickness and other casualties, spend the whole of their earnings as fast as they receive them, and, when out of work, throw themselves and their families on the parish, and remain chargeable until the period of high wages returns. The alternations of dissipation and of privation to which such persons have become habituated, render it probable that even under an improved system of administration, many of them would endure the most rigid workhouse discipline during the winter, to gain freedom from self-restraint during the spring, summer, and autumn.
The following extracts from the Evidence describe the nature of the evil, and suggest the remedy:—
Mr. John Coste, relieving overseer of St. Leonard, Shore-ditch—
"We have frequently amongst our paupers mechanics who obtain very high wages during particular periods, and when work fails, immediately come upon the parish. These men are, generally speaking, the greatest drunkards. I formerly carried on the business of a willow-square maker, and have paid as much as 4l. or 5l. a-week to particular men for months together. I do not believe that one of these men ever saved a pound; several of them are now in the workhouse, and receiving relief, who might have provided for themselves by means of savings' banks, until they got some other description of profitable labour. The sawyers are another set of men of the same description. It would be of great advantage to parishes, if relief were given to all these classes in the way of loan, and power were conferred to attach a portion of their wages for repayment80 ."
Mr. Teather, an assistant overseer of Lambeth, when examined as to the condition of some of the paupers, stated,—
"We have had many bootmakers and shoemakers who might have saved enough money when in work to keep them from the parish when they are out of work. Amongst the barbers there are several who have been master barbers, who might have saved enough money to keep them from the parish; one man I know could not have got less than 3l. or 4l. a week; he boasted that he made 30s. on a Sunday. Amongst the tailors are many who might save money. Some of them on the parish are very good workmen, who could earn about 6s. a day, and when they chose to work over-work, about 7s. One of them now on the parish, a man named M'Innis, is said by persons in the trade to be one of the best workmen in London. He is now just out of the tread-mill for neglecting his family. The greater part of sawyers could save enough to keep them from the parish during the intervals of work. The greater part of them, that is, all the able men, before the saw-mills came up, could have put by at least 1l. Before the saw-mills were established, a pair of sawyers have, during the whole year, earned 5l. a week; they have acknowledged to me, in blaming their own improvidence, that there have been times when they have earned as much as 10l. a-week; they have acknowledged also that when they have been earning money they have never taken their families more than 1l. a-week regularly; they have paid rent and bought coals besides; but they have themselves lived at the public-house with the rest of their money. Barge-builders are men who could save money; they have 6s. a-day standing wages. The coal-porters earn a great deal; they have been known to get as much as 9s. or 10s. a-day, but they are very rarely known to save anything81 ."
Mr. Robert Oldershaw, vestry clerk of Islington,—
"Amongst the able-bodied labourers are many brick-makers, men who, during seven or eight months in the year, work hard and obtain very high wages. They sometimes earn 6l., 8l., or 10l. a-week per gang. Some of these gangs are children. The adults will, I have been informed, earn from 2l. to 3l., 4l., or 5l. a-week. The head of the gang, I am informed, often earns as much as 5l. per week. They drink much beer, and perhaps their labour requires it; but they might, out of their wages, wholly, or in part, make provision for the winter, if they were so inclined; but they spend all; they make no provision whatever for the winter, and when the weather sets in, they throw themselves upon the parish as a customary thing. We have tried to make savings' banks available against this course of improvidence, but without effect. Formerly, however, their wives have made small deposits in the savings' banks to provide for their confinement, or the payment of their rent in the winter, unknown to their husbands. If their husbands knew they had the money, they would beat them to force it from them, and would then spend it improvidently. I was a member of the savings' bank, and have seen the poor women bring their little pittances there. They have besought me to keep it secret from their husbands82 ."
Mr. Money, builder and master brick-maker, Shaw-cum-Donnington, Berkshire, was asked with respect to the men in his own employment, of the class adverted to by the last witness,—
"What do you think would be the effect of an enactment enabling the parish to order the employers of men of this class to receive a portion of their wages to repay the parochial expenditure of the winter?—This would be of great advantage, and I believe would be entirely practicable.
"You would perhaps say that if the deduction were too great, he would abscond?—There is certainly that danger.
"What deduction do you think might be made from a brick-maker's wages without material danger of his absconding?—I think, in the instance of any labourer in my employment, a deduction might be made, from Lady-day to Michaelmas, of about 5s. a-week.
"I should recommend that no relief whatever be given to able-bodied single men or women, but let the officers have authority to advance small sums of money by way of loan, upon receiving some acknowledgment or security for the repayment of the same. With regard to applicants for relief who may have families, or where there is sickness, the local board should have discretionary power either to relieve them under the same conditions, or otherwise, according to the circumstances of the case, and when the parties get into work, the overseer should have the same power of recovering the sum advanced from their employers, either by instalments or otherwise, as they now have of claiming seamen's wages in the merchants' service, or the pension for past services in the navy or army, for money advanced either to the parties themselves, or to their families. There is a provision already made to authorize overseers to advance small sums of money in this way; but there is no power to enable the overseers to enforce a repayment of the money so advanced from the employers83 ."
Mr. Hollands, some time vestry clerk of Bermondsey, examined,—
"When in office I found that the provisions of the 59th Geo. III. c. 12, enabling parish officers to stop the wages of merchant seamen, and to receive those of men in the king's service, were provisions of the greatest utility. They were satisfactory to the well-disposed poor, and the parishes were greatly benefited. I have had deserted wives express the highest gratitude for wages saved from vagabond and unprincipled husbands. I have no doubt that these provisions might be profitably extended to all classes of workmen. Parish officers would not make the deduction from wages too heavy84 ."
In the returns of the occupations of the depositors of the savings' banks, we have found a number of mechanics of each of the large classes, whose unworthy members we see in the condition of paupers. These habits detract extensively from the support of savings' banks and friendly societies, so meritoriously sustained by a large proportion of the working classes. Eleemosynary aid, even in cases of sickness, to those who, from their condition, will probably have wherewithal to repay it, is a bounty on improvidence. Statements to the following effect have been made to us from various quarters:—
"We are of opinion," say the trustees of the Mary-le-bone Savings' Banks, "that, if the facilities given to the able-bodied of obtaining parochial relief or public charity (and we are induced to lay much stress upon the latter) were removed, the number of members of such institutions as ours would be increased.
"We are unable to state in what proportion the increase would take place; but we think that, wherever any considerable number of a class of labourers and others are found to be depositors in banks for savings, almost all such persons might follow their example, and probably would do so, were they not encouraged in their thoughtless and improvident habits by the expectation of obtaining relief from some established public charity in almost every circumstance of difficulty or distress to which they can be exposed85 ."
The Rev. William Otter, vicar of Kinlet, Salop, states,—
"When I first came to this living, the landlord and myself persuaded the farmers to join in the establishment of an institution which was intended to combine the advantages of a sick club and a savings' bank. In the former capacity, after doing some good, it has gradually declined, because it was found difficult to make the members contribute steadily and regularly; and there seemed, besides, to be a notion prevalent that, in case of sickness, the parish doctor might always be had recourse to for nothing."86
On this subject, as well as the general question of the poor-laws, we have had ample evidence tendered by some of the most respectable of the workpeople themselves. Launcelot Snowdon, the witness whose evidence we have before cited, was asked,—
"Do you find any effect produced by men obtaining parochial relief readily, when they are out of work, or have anything the matter with them?—I have always seen that men who have had parish relief have been very careless of work and of their money ever afterwards. It has also acted very mischievously on the benefit societies, as these men would never contribute to them. We had a large and very good society of our own, which failed some time ago, and I have known the societies of other trades fail: and it has been a common complaint amongst us, that, but for the parish, they would have stood firm. I am myself confident, that, but for the parish, they would have stood firm.
"Do you think that rendering a workman's wages attachable, when in work, as repayment for any relief which he may have had from the parish, would be serviceable as a remedy for the evil you have mentioned?—Yes, I think it would be highly useful in every point of view. I have no great hopes of the old ones who have had parish relief, but I have no doubt that it would make many of the young ones subscribe, and keep themselves from the parish.
"Do you think the body of operatives with whom you are acquainted would agree with you in this view?—Of course those who have been paupers would not agree; but all the respectable workmen would decidedly agree. I think that, in instances of real misfortune, which I have known occur, it would be thought better of, if the relief was given as a loan, and not as a charity. But the workmen would generally object to any compulsory payment to guard against future liabilities.
"Do you think the process of collecting this sort of repayment would be difficult?—I think not."
A large proportion of those who become in any way chargeable to the parish, are incapable of self-control, or of altering their habits and making any reservation of money when once it is in their possession, although they acknowledge their obligations, and are satisfied to perform them.
It appears that, from the Chelsea pensioners, there are about 3500 quarterly assignments, or 14,000 annual assignments, of pensions to parish officers, and 1480 pensions annually claimed by virtue of magistrates' orders, in cases in which pensioners have allowed their wives or families to become chargeable to the parish; and that from the Greenwich out-pensioners, 1200 pensions, amounting to 12,530l., were attached and recovered last year. The parish officers examined upon this subject agree, that, but for the provisions of the Act, the whole amount of these pensions would be lost to the parish, and would be injuriously wasted by the pensioners, from their incapacity to take care of large sums of money.
Any collection from the labourer himself must be weekly, and the labour of collecting these small instalments would often prevent its being undertaken; but if wages were attached in the hands of the master, the payments might be at longer intervals, or in liquidation at once of the whole demand.
Tradesmen declare that they should feel it no grievance to be compelled to make reservation of wages to satisfy such demands, and that whatever money was recovered, would be recovered from the ginshop. The more important object of the measure is the reimposing motives to frugality on those who possess the means of being frugal; on this account we consider that it would be deserving of adoption, though the greater number of labourers defeated the claims upon them by absconding. By a tolerably vigilant administration of the proposed law, however, much money might be recovered from them. A large proportion of the labour of the classes in question is of a nature not to be found everywhere. A tailor may run away, but a brickmaker can only get work in the brick-fields, where he may be found. During the period when the labourer is in the receipt of full wages, if he spend them he will have in prospect the necessity of absconding in search of work at the commencement of another season; and if subjection during the interval to strict workhouse regulation be comprehended in the view, there can be little doubt that he will often be impelled to have recourse to the savings' banks to avoid the inconvenience.
It appears, then, that if power were given to parish officers of attaching wages, or of ordering the reservation of such instalments as they deemed expedient for the liquidation of debts due to the parish, a proportion of those debts would be recovered.
We are further of opinion that such a measure might be made still more useful, if the principle on which the 29th, 30th, 31st, and 32nd clauses of the 59th Geo. III., cap. 12, are founded, were acted on more extensively. The 29th clause enables the officer to whom it appears that the applicant for relief might, but for his extravagance, neglect, or willful misconduct, have been able to maintain himself, or to support his family, to advance money to him weekly, or otherwise, by way of loan. It appears from our evidence that in some places this clause has been acted upon beneficially, but that in general little use is made of it, partly because a person who has not been guilty of extravagance, neglect, or wilful misconduct, is excluded from its operation, and partly because the existence of the clause is not notorious. It appears to us advisable that, under regulations to be framed by the Central Board, parishes should be empowered to treat any relief afforded to the able-bodied, or to their families, and any expenditure in the workhouse, or otherwise incurred on their account, as a loan, and recoverable, not only in the mode pointed out by the clause to which we have referred, but also by attachment of their wages, in a way resembling that in which the 30th, 31st, and 32d clauses of the same Act direct the attachment of pensions and seamen's wages.
WE THEREFORE RECOMMEND, THAT UNDER REGULATIONS TO BE FRAMED BY THE CENTRAL BOARD, PARISHES BE EMPOWERED TO TREAT ANY RELIEF AFFORDED TO THE ABLE-BODIED, OR TO THEIR FAMILIES, AND ANY EXPENDITURE IN THE WORKHOUSES, OR OTHERWISE INCURRED ON THEIR ACCOUNT, AS A LOAN, AND RECOVERABLE NOT ONLY BY THE MEANS GIVEN BY THE 29TH SECTION OF THE 59TH GEO. III., C. 12, BUT ALSO BY ATTACHMENT OF THEIR SUBSEQUENT WAGES, IN A MODE RESEMBLING THAT POINTED OUT IN THE 30TH, 31ST, AND 32D SECTIONS OF THAT ACT.
In our recommendation of the prohibition of partial relief to the families of the able-bodied, we proposed that relief by apprenticing should, to a certain extent, be excepted from that prohibition. In the instructions given by us to our Assistant-Commissioners, we directed them to ascertain "the practice in the different parishes as to the apprenticing of poor children, inquiring to what class of persons they are apprenticed, and whether such persons take them voluntarily or by compulsion, and if the latter, according to what principle they are distributed; whether any and what care is taken to see that they are well treated and taught; and whether there are any grounds for supposing that a power to bind for less than seven years would be expedient."
But we regret to say that we have received less information on this subject than on any other. The most important is that collected by Captain Chapman87 and Mr. Villiers88 , but even that is contradictory; and if it were consistent, too meagre to afford grounds for legislation. It is a mode of relief expressly pointed out by the 43d of Elizabeth, and so much interwoven with the habits of the people in many districts, that we should hesitate, even if its evils were much more clearly ascertained, and even if we believed that those evils will not be much diminished by the alteration which we shall propose respecting settlement, to recommend its abolition until it has been made the subject of further inquiry, and until the effects of the measures now likely to be introduced have been ascertained by experience.
At the same time we think it probable, perhaps we might say certain, that further inquiry will show that the laws respecting the relief to be afforded by means of apprenticeship are capable of improvement, particularly those portions of them which render the reception of a parish apprentice compulsory.
WE RECOMMEND, THEREFORE, THAT THE CENTRAL BOARD BE EMPOWERED TO MAKE SUCH REGULATIONS AS THEY SHALL THINK FIT RESPECTING THE RELIEF TO BE AFFORDED BY APPRENTICING CHILDREN, AND THAT AT A FUTURE PERIOD, WHEN THE EFFECT OF THE PROPOSED ALTERATIONS SHALL HAVE BEEN SEEN, THE CENTRAL BOARD BE REQUIRED TO MAKE A SPECIAL INQUIRY INTO THE OPERATION OF THE LAWS RESPECTING THE APPRENTICING CHILDREN AT THE EXPENSE OF PARISHES, AND INTO THE OPERATION OF THE REGULATIONS IN THAT RESPECT WHICH THE BOARD SHALL HAVE ENFORCED.
On the subject of vagrancy, a large mass of evidence is contained in the Appendix, particularly in the Reports of Mr. Bishop89 , Mr. Codd90 , Captain Chapman91 , and Mr. Henderson92 . It appears from this evidence, that vagrancy has actually been converted into a trade, and not an unprofitable one; and it also appears, that the severe and increasing burden arises from the vagrants by trade, not from those on account of destitution. We state, in proof of this, and the statement is more valuable, as it points out the remedy as well as the cause of the evil, that in those few districts in which the relief has been such as only the really destitute will accept, the resort of vagrants has ceased, or been so much diminished as to become only a trifling inconvenience. But it appears vain to expect the remedy from detailed statutory provisions. The tendency of legislation respecting the poor to aggravate the evils which it was intended to cure, a tendency which we have so often remarked, is strikingly exemplified in that portion of it which respects vagrancy. The early statutes attempted to repress it by severity. "This part of our history," says Dr. Burn, "looks like the history of the savages in America. Almost all severities have been exercised against vagrants except scalping; and as one severity fell short, it seemed naturally to follow that a greater was necessary." But such was their effect, that every successive preamble admits the inefficiency of the former law down to the 1st and 2d Geo. IV., c. 64, which recites, "that the provisions theretofore made, and then in force, relative to the apprehending and passing of vagrants, were productive of great expense, and that great frauds and abuses were committed in the execution thereof;" and to the 5th Geo. IV., c. 83, which declares that it is expedient to make further provision for the suppression of vagrancy. Nor has the last-mentioned Act been more successful than those which preceded it. As one among many instances in which its provisions have been perverted, we will mention the effect of the 15th clause, which allows the visiting justice of prisons to grant a certificate, or other instrument, enabling any person discharged from prison to receive relief on his route to his place of settlement. The intention of the clause was to enable prisoners, after having undergone their punishment or trial, to go from prison to their own homes without temptation to further crime. The effect has been "for the benefit of the pass" to convey into prisons paupers, and families of paupers, as if the legislature intended that they and their children should have all the terrors of a prison obliterated from their minds, and receive instruction in the worst schools of vice; as if provision ought to be made to increase the stock of juvenile delinquents, already more numerous in England than in any other European country. By what foresight could the benevolent author of this clause have guarded against such an administration of the enactment as that of which one of the witnesses, a gaoler, thus describes? "It is a melancholy thing that poor people are sent into prison as vagrants that they may be passed home. There is now a mother, a widow with five children, under my care; the boys are from five to fifteen years of age. The mother was committed, not for any crime, but having been found sitting in the open air. Now what, I beg to ask, can be the effect of sending these children with their mother to a gaol? What can they not learn? In general, vagrants are told that they are sent to prison, not for their punishment, but for their benefit. Prisons should not, in any case, as I humbly conceive, be held out as places where people are to be benefited. They are now looked upon as a places of relief, and the large class of vagrants are told that they are sent to prison avowedly for their advantage93 ."
"When the law," says another witness, "was made restricting pauper passes to Scotch and Irish, very few for a time came to Westmoreland or Cumberland; but the vagrants soon found that they might easily resume their trade by swearing they belonged to those countries; and the expense became as large as ever. When this again was checked by making the contract for a fixed sum annually, to convey all paupers with passes by cart through the country, the number of vagrants calling themselves discharged prisoners (and therefore not subject to these regulations) began to increase, and has continued to do so progressively94 ."
Feeling convinced that vagrancy will cease to be a burthen, if the relief given to vagrants is such as only the really destitute will accept; feeling convinced that this cannot be effected unless the system is general; and also convinced that no exactments to be executed by parochial officers will in all parishes be rigidly adhered to, unless under the influence of strict superintendence and control,—WE RECOMMEND THAT THE CENTRAL BOARD BE EMPOWERED AND DIRECTED TO FRAME AND ENFORCE REGULATIONS AS TO THE RELIEF TO BE AFFORDED TO VAGRANTS AND DISCHARGED PRISONERS.
We have now given a brief outline of the functions, for the due performance of which we deem a new agency, or Central Board of Control, to be requisite; and we have inserted none which the evidence would warrant us in believing attainable by any existing agency. The length of this Report precludes the statement, in further detail, of the powers and duties of the proposed board. The extent of those powers and duties must be measured by the extent and inveteracy of the existing evils, and by the failure, or worse than failure, of the measures by which their removal has been attempted. If for that purpose the powers which we have recommended are necessary, to withhold those powers is to decree the continuance of the evil. The powers with which we recommend that they should be invested are in fact the powers now exercised by 15,000 sets of annual officers. By far the majority of those officers are ignorant of their duties, influenced by their affections, interests and fears, and restrained by scarcely any real responsibility. The Commissioners would act upon the widest information, under the direct control of the legislature and the supervision of the public, and under no liability to pecuniary or private bias, partiality or intimidation. They would have the immediate advantage of having well-defined objects assigned to them, powerful means at their disposal, and clear rules for their guidance; and they would soon have the aid of varied and extensive experience; and it appears to us, that the best means of preventing their negligent or improper use of the discretion with which it appears to be necessary to invest them will be, not to restrict that discretion, but to render their interest coincident with their duty, and to let them be removable at Your Majesty's pleasure.
We entertain, however, no hope, that the complicated evils with which we have to contend, will all be eradicated by the measures which we now propose. The mischiefs which have arisen during a legislation of more than 300 years, must require the legislation of more than one Session for their correction. In order to secure the progressive improvement from which alone we hope for an ultimate cure; and in order to bring the proceedings of the Commissioners more constantly and completely within the superintendence of the executive and the legislature, we propose that the Commissioners should be charged with the duty, similar to that which we now endeavour to perform, of periodically reporting their proceedings, and suggesting any further legislation which may appear to them to be desirable.
WE RECOMMEND, THEREFORE, THAT THE BOARD BE REQUIRED TO SUBMIT A REPORT ANNUALLY, TO ONE OF YOUR MAJESTY'S PRINCIPAL SECRETARIES OF STATE, CONTAINING—1. AN ACCOUNT OF THEIR PROCEEDINGS; 2. ANY FURTHER AMENDMENTS WHICH THEY MAY THINK IT ADVISABLE TO SUGGEST; 3. THE EVIDENCE ON WHICH THE SUGGESTIONS ARE FOUNDED; 4. BILLS CARRYING THOSE AMENDMENTS (IF ANY) INTO EFFECT, WHICH BILLS THE BOARD SHALL BE EMPOWERED TO PREPARE WITH PROFESSIONAL ASSISTANCE.
We consider that three Commissioners might transact the business of the Central Board. The number of the Commissioners should be small, as they should habitually act with promptitude, as responsibility for efficiency should not be weakened by discredit being divided amongst a larger number, and as the Board, whenever the labour pressed too severely, might avail themselves of the aid of their assistants. The Central Board would probably require eight or ten Assistant Commissioners, to examine the administration of relief in different districts, and aid the preparations for local changes. As the Central Board would be responsible for the performance of the duties imposed upon them by the legislature,—
WE RECOMMEND THAT THE CENTRAL BOARD BE EMPOWERED TO APPOINT AND REMOVE THEIR ASSISTANTS AND ALL THEIR SUBORDINATE OFFICERS.
[Part II, Section 4]