Front Page Titles (by Subject) 279.: FIRST REPORT OF THE POOR LAW COMMISSIONERS GLOBE AND TRAVELLER, 8 SEPT., 1835, P. 4 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III
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279.: FIRST REPORT OF THE POOR LAW COMMISSIONERS GLOBE AND TRAVELLER, 8 SEPT., 1835, P. 4 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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FIRST REPORT OF THE POOR LAW COMMISSIONERS
This unheaded leader, a comment on “First Annual Report of the Poor Law Commissioners for England and Wales,” PP, 1835, XXXV, 107-359, is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A notice of the First Report of the Commissioners under the Poor Laws Amendment Act, printed as a leading article in the Globe of 8th September 1835”
(MacMinn, p. 45).
the first annual report of the Commissioners1 for carrying into effect the Poor Laws Amendment Act has just been laid before parliament, and we are glad to learn that Lord John Russell has directed that, like the report of the Commissioners of Poor Law Inquiry,2 it shall be printed in an octavo form and rendered accessible to the public at large.
So great a reform in the details of the administration of so important and complicated a branch of the institutions of a great country—a reform, too, which, both before and since its passing, has stirred up such a mass of prejudiced or interested hostility—was likely, in the commencement, to be attended with many difficulties. The difficulties, however, appear in this, as in many other cases, to have vanished as soon as they were steadfastly looked at and boldly encountered. It is truckling, it is a timid and wavering policy, which creates difficulties. Those who court opposition, by showing that they fear it, always meet with plenty of it. The authors of the Poor Law Bill were masters of their subject, and therefore knew that they were right; and knowing the right they dared do it, and relied upon the good sense of the nation for bearing them through. Nor were they disappointed. The Commissioners for executing the act have followed in the steps of its framers, and have carried the provisions of the act into effect through a great portion of the most pauperised parts of England, with a facility which scarcely any of the supporters of the bill expected, and already with a good effect which gives the most complete confirmation to all their predictions.
Before we extract for the benefit of our readers any part of the information contained in the report, we must remark how admirable a precedent has been introduced into our legislation by that provision of the act to which this report owes its origin;3 and how much it were to be desired that not only a Board merely created for a special purpose, like the Poor Law Board, but that all public offices, new or old, should be required to lay before parliament annual reports of their proceedings during the year, with full statements, such as the present report contains, of the reasons of any of those proceedings the grounds of which are not obvious. Such a regulation would not only afford encouragement and reward to a good administration of the several departments, while it imposed a salutary restraint upon bad, but it would be a check upon the Ministers of the Crown in the distribution of patronage; it would compel them to place able and efficient men at the heads of departments, because ignorance, incapacity, or negligence, not to mention worse faults, would be at once detected by the necessity of an annual statement and vindication of all the proceedings of the department, and by the discussions to which those statements would give rise.
The Commissioners have, during the first year of their administration—
1. Corrected numerous misunderstandings of the intention of the act, and diffused through the whole country a better knowledge of its purposes and provisions.
2. Occasioned a very general substitution, by the parishes themselves, of relief in kind for relief in money; the effect of which has been a very considerable reduction of the amount of out-door pauperism. It is remarkable that in the only cases in which any local disturbances have been produced by the operations of the Commissioners, the provocation has consisted not in the refusal of relief, the introduction of the workhouse system, &c., but in the substitution of bread for money; thus showing clearly the real origin of the dissatisfaction.
3. They have effected unions of parishes throughout a large part of the most pauperised counties, placing each union under a representative body, or Board of Guardians, elected by the rate payers. The consequences of this change have already been most salutary. It is not only the sole means by which the grand remedy of poor law evils, the introduction of the workhouse system, can be effected, but it is also the only system by which local jobbing and peculation can be arrested, and an agency, as well superior as subordinate, obtained of adequate respectability and skill.
4. They have facilitated (what under the old law of settlement4 was virtually impossible) the migration of labourers and their families from the parishes where they were superabundant, to the manufacturing towns where there was a pressing demand for new hands.
5. They have formed rules to be observed by the Boards of Guardians in conducting their business, and for the management of workhouses.
The number of parishes which have already been formed into unions are 2,066, constituting 110 unions; their population forms one-tenth of the population of England and Wales; their rates one sixth of the amount for the whole kingdom. In the unions which have been formed for a sufficient length of time to allow of a comparison, a very great reduction of rates has already been effected. A statement furnished in p. 26 of the report shows a reduction of 4,384l. on a total of 13,889l., or about 30 per cent. The effect on the labourers themselves has been admirable. Wherever the allowances in aid of wages have been discontinued, wages have risen, and the whole of the able-bodied paupers have found employment, generally within the parish. We shall find room to-morrow for such extracts from the report itself as may best illustrate and confirm our foregoing observations.5
The Commissioners have expounded the principles upon which they act, with a degree of clearness and precision which will give confidence to the late Commissioners of Inquiry,6 and supporters of the act, that the measure will not be injured in the execution by acting upon partial views, or without that knowledge of sound principles, and confidence in their operation, which is essential to the success of such an undertaking. The determination announced of applying general rules to the un-united parishes, and of enforcing one uniform system of accounts, is a subject of especial congratulation. If the Commissioners complete their task with the same attention to general principles, with the same firm yet cautious perseverance which they appear to have exercised at the commencement of their duties, the country will owe them a debt of gratitude second only to that which is due by the country to the late Commissioners of Inquiry by whom the measures were prepared.
[1 ]For their names, see No. 265, n2.
[2 ]See No. 239.
[3 ]By Sect. 5 of 4 & 5 William IV, c. 76 (1834), the Poor Law Act.
[4 ]13 & 14 Charles II, c. 12 (1662).
[5 ]“Poor Law Report—Union of Parishes,” Globe and Traveller, 9 Sept., 1835, p. 3.
[6 ]For their names, see No. 265, n3.