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Poor Law Commissioners in United Kingdom

Poor Law Commissioners

In this issue about poor law commissioners, the book “English Poor Law Policy” [1] reads as follows: It had, as we have seen, been left to the Poor Law Commissioners to formulate their own policy, with the guidance of the Report of 1834. This policy is, during the ensuing thirteen years, to be found in [1] the orders issued under the Act of 1834 and subsequent statutes; (2) the circulars and other explanatory or instructional communications to the local authorities, inspectors, auditors, etc., and (3) the reports to Parliament.

Under the term “order,” we include, as is customary, all the “rules, orders, and regulations” issued in pursuance of statutory powers. With whatever parts of poor relief these dealt, they had the force of law; either under the specific powers relating to workhouses, or relief to the able-bodied, or under the general powers authorising the Poor Law Commissioners to make “rules, orders, and regulations … for the guidance and control of all guardians, vestries, and parish officers so far as relates to the management or relief of the poor.” According to the Act of 1834 some of these orders were to be “General Rules,” and were not to take effect until they had been submitted to a Secretary of State, and by him laid before Parliament for forty days; and they were disallowable by the Privy Council. A “General Rule” was to be “any rule … which shall, at the time of issuing the same, be addressed … to more than one union or to more parishes and places than one.” Other orders, known first as “Particular Orders,” and subsequently as “Special Orders,” and now simply as “Orders,” were subject to no such conditions. There was, however, no distinction between them as to validity, force of law, or sanction. It was therefore open to the Poor Law Commissioners to issue all its orders as particular or special orders by addressing them successively to separate unions or parishes, even if they were identical in their terms. For reasons explained in the Poor Law Commissioners’ Report on the Further Amendment of the Poor Law, 1839, this was the course adopted. No general order was issued prior to 1841.

With circulars so-called we include all explanatory or instructional communications to local authorities or to the officers of central or local authorities, or to Parliament. These, though embodying the policy of the Central Authority, had not the force of law. Moreover, as they were issued for particular emergencies, and were never withdrawn or expressly abrogated, they-unlike any unrepealed orders-must not be considered as necessarily laying down general policy for all time. Subject to consideration of this limitation, we propose to include the circulars, letters, etc., along with the general and special orders, in our analysis of the policy laid down for each of the several classes of destitute persons.


Notes and References

  1. Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb, “English Poor Law Policy” (1913), Longmans, Green and Co., London, New York, Bombay and Calcuta.

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Schema Summary

  • Article Name: Poor Law Commissioners
  • Author: Timothy Millett
  • Description: In this issue about poor law commissioners, the book English Poor Law Policy [1] reads as follows: It had, as we have seen, [...]

This entry was last updated: March 7, 2017


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