HC Deb 27 February 1817 vol 35 cc759-62

Sir Egerton Bridges moved for leave to bring in a bill to alter the law of settlements, as far as regards the value of a tenement derived from the pasturage of cows; on which occasion he delivered himself in substance as follows:—He said he had attended very anxiously to the principles laid down on a former night by the member for Carlisle, on moving for a committee on the poor Jaws, and also to those so powerfully expatiated on by the noble lord in the blue ribbon g and if there had been any thing in those principles inconsistent with the amendment he now proposed, he should have hesitated before he made the attempt. But his present object was in direct coincidence with those principles. The great point which now seemed generally agreed to be necessary was, a check upon the improvident resort to the funds of the poor-rates, and a revival of the spirit of industry and independance. The 43d of Elizabeth was good. The evils have arisen from the excrescences of the superstructure. The principle of keeping wages low, and making up the worth of labour by the poor-rates was pernicious. No man ought to be paid less than the worth of his labour by those who employ him: and if he his paid more, such a practice, if extended widely, takes away the necessary check to the excess of population above the means of support, which a country will in that case produce. It is wrong therefore to regulate the quantum of wages by the quantum of family of the person employed. So far as a pauper's inability to support himself arises from want of employment, his parish ought to find such employment, which ought to be of a beneficial and productive kind; and such, it is conceived, might in general be found without much difficulty. It seems clear that till the land has attained the utmost limits of cultivation, every able-bodied poor man may, with the use of the proportionate quantity, generate the means of his own support. The laws of nature have imposed that check on excess of population, which arises from the dread of inability of self-support. The poor laws, as lately administered, have endeavoured to act counter to these inscrutable laws. And its effects have been at last found to be such, as might have been predicted. Constituted as human nature is, it is vain to hope that a man will exert his full industry, when he is sure of his support, whether the work he does is much or little. If it be said that the taunts, the scoffs, and harshness, that on applying, a pauper too often receives from a parish officer, are sufficient to deter him from the application; or at least to instigate him to try previously every method to avoid the necessity, experience has proved, that from the existing state of things, during the last twenty years, such attempts have been so generally fruitless, that as necessity urged, so example has taken away all shame. But unfortunately the evil of the taunts, and the scoffs, and the harshness remains; while the use of them as a check to demand has utterly failed. They have broken, the spirit of the poor roan; and destroyed his moral courage; and moral self-estimation; they have taken away that elasticity of heart by which industry is supported, and strength inspired and cherished. In a state of self-abasement he can be content to submit to servility and indignity for the sake of getting food and shelter for himself and his family without a stretch of bodily toil. Poor houses, in their present, extended use, are among the great evils of the modern system, because they take away the necessity of foresight, self-regulation and self-denial. Allow to a man a cottage, a garden, and (where it can be) enough to keep a cow; and, if he is industrious, he will be able to support his family, however numerous, while young—especially if work be found for him when he cannot find it for himself, if he be not industrious, let him suffer for it; it is the immutable law of nature. If his improvidence and idleness are so gross, as to bring his family to starvation, let him be punished in the house of correction. For sickness, accidents, orphancy, and extreme age, the parish funds must still provide. By the indolence super-induced from the security of sustenance, the pauper loses even the power of great bodily exertions: or, if not, spends the surplus with which the opportunity of extra-exertion occasionally supplies him in enervating drink and dissoluteness. It was with these impressions that he was now stimulated to endeavour to remove an existing obstacle to the poor man's enjoyment of the benefit of a cow. As long as the hire of the produce of a cow depastured on land, which in the construction of the law had been adjudged to be a tenement, gave the pauper a settlement where he resided, if of the value of 10l. so long would the farmer be debarred from accommodating his labourers with such a boon. Sir Egerton, therefore, proposed to raise the value of the tenement which should give a settlement to 20l. a year, in all cases in which the tenement consisted wholly or in part of the pasturage of cows. As far as it went, he trusted, that this encouragement would have a tendency to stimulate the labourer to look to his own resources, and not place a blind, servile, and habitual reliance on the poor-rates. In consideration of what had passed so lately on this subject, and that he might not seem so presumptuous as to wish to anticipate the views of the committee now sitting, he should forbear at present from entering more at large on this fertile and multifarious topic of legislation. He then moved, "That leave be given to bring in a bill for altering the laws relating to the removal of the poor in certain cases."

Sir C. Burrell

supported the motion, and thought the amendment would be very useful.

Mr. Lockhart

wished to wait for the report of the committee, who had in view a total alteration and simplification of the law of settlements.

Sir C. Monck

was of a similar opinion.

Sir Egerton Brydges

replied, that the extensive alterations to which the committee looked must be a work of time, in the mean time why not remove a partial but pressing evil? He appealed to an hon. baronet, the chairman of the East Kent sessions, if a large number of the cases in the court where he presided did not turn upon cow tenements, and observed, that when a more extensive amelioration was Found, if it could be found, this might be superseded as unnecessary; but let it operate as long as it was wanted.

Sir E. Knatchbull

confirmed this statement: and expressed his approbation of the objects of the bill, adding, that if, on the bill being printed, there should be any thing in it to render it adviseable to wait the report of the committee, it might then be suspended.

Leave was given to bring in the bill. It was afterwards brought in, and read a first time.