HC Deb 05 February 1817 vol 35 cc222-6
Mr. Rose

, in proposing to the House a motion for leave to bring in a bill to regulate Saving Banks, did not think it necessary to take up the time of the House by entering into any discussion upon the subject, as it had been very fully debated during the last session. There were only two clauses in the bill on which it had appeared that any difference of opinion prevailed; and these were, the clause which related to investing the deposits in the funds, and that which related to the poor-rates. As this was not the proper stage for discussing any objections to these clauses, he contented himself with saying a few words in favour of these banks, and expressed his opinion that when they came to be generally introduced, they would gradually do away the evils of the system of poor laws. When it was considered that no less a sum than seven millions was annually raised at present for the benefit of the poor, and yet that complete relief was not afforded to them, it would be allowed that any measure which tended to alleviate the pressure of the poor-rates, and to ameliorate the condition of the lower orders of society, was of the utmost importance, and deserved in the greatest degree the protection and encouragement of the legislature. He concluded by moving, "That leave be given to bring in a bill for the protection and encouragement of Provident Institutions or Banks for Savings."

Sir C. Monck

said, it was not his intention to oppose the motion; but when the proper time came, he should certainly oppose the two clauses alluded to by the right hon. gentleman. He understood the object of the present bill to be to enact certain regulations for the management of the institutions in question; but as he had heard no complaint of any want of bye-laws in those saving banks already established, and as there had been no petition presented, he was inclined to think that this bill would be unnecessary, although he did not wish prematurely to express any opinion against it. He fully concurred in the sentiments of the right hon. gentleman as to the utility of saving banks.

Mr. Curwen

considered it impossible that, in the event of the funds falling, any subscriber wishing to draw out his money should be able to receive the sum which in the first instance had been deposited with the directors of these provident institutions. He was of opinion, that the person funding should have this option, whether he would invest it in one fund or the other. Whatever might be thought of their utility, he was satisfied it was an error to imagine they could essentially contribute to the alleviation of the present distressing situation of affairs. It was not a feather in the scale of our difficulties. The embarrassment was too great to be checked by such temporary expedients as this, or many others, suggested by those who were glad of having any thing to suggest. From what he had learned on this subject, he firmly believed that not seven, but more than ten millions would of necessity be levied on the public in one way or ether, for the support of the poor of this country; and even that would be found inadequate to the emergency. Yet although England had already subscribed, or suffered to be levied in the shape of poor-rates, more money than all Europe beside had done for its collective poor, had those great exertions relieved them in any satisfactory degree, or had it rendered them happy? Nothing short of a measure which, in its nature, might have a compulsory influence over the minds of the people, to teach the peasantry and the poor that the means of relief, the means of content and happiness, were within the reach of their own exertion and industrious application would be effectual. From the first passing of the poor laws up to the present day, he had seen this alarming evil increasing. The poor were daily becoming more numerous and more importunate. Some time ago it was ascertained that full 13l. per cent. had been levied upon landed property; latterly, he imagined, it was not far short of 15l. per cent.; and he should not be much surprised if it amounted this year to 20l. This was the result of misconception and mismanagement. He did not like the idea to go abroad into the country, that no change was about to be made with reference to the present system. It could no longer go on, and ministers and members must join hands in remedying the grievances so generally felt both by the poor and the land-holder. In a farm near Leeds, consisting of 120 acres, he knew the proprietor had been required to contribute a guinea per week as his quota to the poor; and, at this moment, there were 800 persons, besides the regular paupers of that town, pressing upon the resources of the people of Leeds. In many instances the poor-rates were felt twice as severely as the property tax; and, before the House was prorogued, it would be necessary to come to some decisive measure upon this alarming subject. As for saving banks, he thought they were likely to do much good, though he did not think they were likely to be resorted to by the common run of men, in such times as these.

Mr. Rose

was anxious that it should not go forth, that he had said that the poor-rates would be diminished by the institution of saving banks. All that he said was this; that when the annual amount of the poor-rates was seven millions, it was highly desirable to employ any remedy which might tend to ameliorate the condition of the poor by stimulating their industry, and thus gradually and slowly, though still in the end effectually, operating to the diminution of the distresses of the lower orders, and consequently, as he apprehended, ultimately enabling many of the lower classes to provide for themselves, who would otherwise be a burthen on the public. As the benefits and advantages of these institutions seemed to be allowed on all hands, he would only for the present say, that he conceived that the passing such a bill as that which he intended to introduce, was absolutely necessary for the prosperity of these institutions. An hon. gentleman thought that, in the present times, these banks were not likely to do for the common run of people of the lower classes. Now against this, he would say, that they would do for the common run of people; that he knew from his own experience, that they would do; that in his own neighbourhood at this very time he knew many labouring people, who, amidst all the distresses of the times, paid a shilling a week into the saving banks.

Mr. Wilberforce

said, that his right hon. friend proposed to introduce a system which would teach the poor what they were capable of doing by their own exertions. He therefore really felt that this was one of the class of things for which he, the House, and the country, were extremely indebted to his right hon. friend. The poor laws, no doubt, were a very heavy burthen in these times, but it was rather the administration of those laws than the laws themselves which had produced the evil. If the measure which his right hon. friend proposed did nothing more, it was much if it brought the principle into action which should gradually show the people, that they were capable of doing that for themselves which they now called upon the country to do. For his own part, admitting, in the fullest degree, the evils which the poor laws pro- duced, he was more inclined to attribute those evils to the mode in which the system was administered than to the defects of the system itself. The system of these laws was such, that it always enabled the poor to know where they would find relief. But whatever difference of opinion there might exist as to the poor laws, it was of all things desirable to countenance and foster so sanative a principle as that on which saving banks were founded.

Mr. Lockhart

conceived, that it was impossible at present to alter the system of administering the poor laws. All that could be submitted to the overseers was, the immediate wants of those who applied, and the number of their families, and they were then obliged to administer relief.

General Thornton

apprehended, that the intended bill would produce more harm than good. Last year the right hon. gentleman had withdrawn Scotland from his bill, and England was now going on extremely well without such an act of parliament. He had supported the right hon. gentleman in this measure last year, but he was now of another opinion, and thought it quite unnecessary.

Leave was given to bring in a bill.