HC Deb 14 May 1817 vol 36 cc569-74
The Chancellor of the Exchequer

rose, to move the order of the day, that the House resolve itself into a committee to take into consideration the Employment of the Poor bill. He had introduced a considerable number of amendments into the bill, which he thought would remove some of the objections stated against the measure. He would not enter at present into the merits of those amendments, as a better opportunity would hereafter occur.

Mr. Brougham

had, at the introduction of this measure, expressed some difficulties he felt on the subject. He feared those difficulties were still unremoved. He would willingly give the right hon. gentleman an opportunity of forwarding his bill, and reserve his remarks till it was recommitted; but a few prominent objections he wished at this time to state. First, as to the constitutional objections to the measure, he did think it extremely objectionable that a million and three-fourths of money should be issued by the government to the people at a time when we were upon the eve of an event which would call upon the people to exercise their judgment respecting the character and measures of that government—he meant a dissolution of parliament, which would probably take place a few months after their rising. A second objection was as to the principle of the bill itself. It was a remedy for an evil not felt, while it afforded no remedy of the real evil that was universally and deeply felt. It was not money that was wanted; there was a superabundance of money in the country, but no employment for it. This bill only offered money, but could not find employment for the idle capital already in the country. Not only would the bill afford no remedy, but it would increase the difficulty at present felt. He had at first thought that the only effect of the measure would be to increase the funds of loans, and thus to facilitate borrowing: he was now not of that opinion, because the capital of the country was not to be increased by 1,750,000l.; it was only interposing the credit of government to facilitate loans. Now, the security to be exacted, he thought, would prevent any application for loans of this kind. If, indeed, the security usually required by government were not required in this case—if the government should be satisfied with such security as a private person would require—the objection was removed; but if not, he was convinced no person would apply for loans from the government which he could procure on easier terms from private persons. But if this objection were removed, still there was no real increase of capital. It was only one individual going round about to another individual to obtain a loan of capital already in the country. He did not say that there was no way of explaining the measure so as to remove those objections; yet even if they were explained, the proposed relief would be found quite inadequate. These observations he had made, from a sincere wish to promote any good that the measure might effect, and by no means with an intention to retard it by captious objections.

Mr. Western

said, he had not been in the House when this measure was originally brought forward, but, from the fullest consideration which he was able to give it, he could see no advantage whatever that it was capable of producing; but he saw very many objections to it. The remark of his hon. and learned friend, with respect to the influence it would throw into the hands of government, in the event of a general election, he thought well worthy of consideration. One million and three-fourths distributed by ministers might certainly tend to create influence, and excite a bias that ought to be guarded against. But he felt other objections to the measure. First, it would excite expectations that must be miserably disappointed. The lower classes were naturally induced by the proposal of relief from government, to look for immediate and effectual deliverance from their present difficulties. This expectation could not be realized, and therefore the measure would cause only a cruel disappointment. Besides, it taught the poor to look at their more opulent neighbours, and to view them as, in fact, the prevention of relief being extended to them by the go- vernment. The upper classes were thus placed in a painful situation. The poor wished to obtain 20, 30, or 40,000l.; nothing was wanting but security. Would the House say that it was advisable to give security in such a case? The poorer classes would therefore feel great disappointment, and ascribe that disappointment to their richer neighbours. It could not, indeed, be supposed that any individuals could be found to give their security, but it was proposed to have the poor-rates mortgaged. This he thought objectionable in two points of view: first, it increased the pressure of the poor-rates, by making them the means of borrowing; next, it threw a temptation in the way of occupiers of land, to relieve themselves by mortgaging the poor-rates. This consideration he thought very material. The increasing amount of the poor-rates was most alarming; and whatever could facilitate that increase, was of all things to be deprecated. If once the system was introduced of mortgaging those rates, in vain would they expect any remedy of the evil. As to that part of the measure which related to public works, he thought it quite unavailing. His hon. and learned friend's statement, that it was not capital but employment for it that was wanting, was unanswerable. There was no capital wanting for agriculture, for commerce, for manufacturers. Nor was the project applicable, if capital were wanting.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

admitted, that the objections stated by the hon. and learned gentleman were not entirely removed by any thing that was done, and could not be removed by any thing that could be done; but as to the constitutional objection, if should be recollected that the money was not to be issued by his majesty's ministers individually; and the apprehension of exercising any influence through the commissioners was removed by the independent and honourable character of those commissioners. He would not now enter into the minor details, but he would mention that there were several clauses, introduced for authorizing to dispense, in certain cases, with private security, for special securities of various kinds. The general principle, of the measure was, not to help those who had already credit or capital, but to give relief where there was a temporary deficiency of credit. This was in many instances the case. Whether it was occasioned, or whether it was increased, by the usury laws, he would not at present inquire. That there was great difficulty in procuring capital for promising undertakings was too notorious to require illustration.

Mr. J. P. Grant

thought the object of this measure was of the narrowest kind; and the benefit must, therefore, be likewise very narrow. The principal benefit proposed was to supply public works with capital, where it was wanting. The undertakings which required such aid were not many. If any undertaking was really promising, capital would readily be lent upon the credit of it. For such, therefore, it was not necessary to interpose the credit of government; for those of a different character it was improper to interpose it. The evil at the present moment was too much capital. This was proved by the price of exchequer bills and the state of the funds. It was not capital, therefore, that was wanting; still Jess was it credit. Whatever could by this measure be got from government, could, upon the same security, be got from the market. In no way possible could this measure produce any effect, unless the amount of the exchequer bills were reduced, and they were thrown without any charge of interest into the currency of the country, If 1,750,000l. were thus all at once added to our present currency it would have some effect. He did not at all speak of the policy, or impolicy, of such a measure; he only said, that in no other way could the proposed interposition produce any beneficial effect. He gave the right hon. gentleman credit for benevolent intentions; but, from the first moment he heard of this project, he was convinced it could produce no public benefit.

Mr. Rose

observed, that, after the appointment of commissioners, and commissioners of the highest character, it would be bold and enterprising indeed in the chancellor of the exchequer, or the secretary for foreign affairs, to apply to those commissioners for the promotion of any political purposes. As to what the hon. member for Essex had said, respecting the danger of charging persons with poor-rates in consequence of this measure, who would not otherwise be liable, he thought that, though some cases of this sort might happen, there could not be many. In most instances, recourse to the poor-rates could be avoided; but in some cases personal security upon the poor-rates would be required. To extend credit in this way would be of great use. There were cases within his own knowledge in which the benefit of it would be sensibly felt. He did not allude to public works: but as to public works, too, it would be of much benefit. Money could be readily obtained from private individuals, where there was a prospect of returning it in two, three, or four months; but it was not possible to obtain it upon the same terms for two, three or four years. On this account, therefore, the credit given by government would be most beneficial. The measure would, he was convinced, do great good, and occasion no inconvenience.

Mr. Brougham

explained, that he by no means apprehended any sinister influence on the part of the commissioners. The money could not be issued all at once; the election might take place while the commissioners were sitting; many persons would intend to-make application and expect assistance; in such a state of things an influence would necessarily be in operation, which the principles of our constitution required us to regard with jealousy.

Mr. Lockhart

could not view any constitutional danger in the measure. It was not in issuing the money that he saw difficulty and danger, but in paying it back again. He was thoroughly convinced the object of the bill would totally fail. To large companies no assistance would be given, for they had already enough of capital. He understood the right hon. gentleman had abandoned the idea of taking private personal security; of this he approved. If the government could come in with private creditors, and issue extents to recover its claims, the evil would be most serious. The government would have a preference over the other creditors, and thus throw them out of their original station. He believed the hon. member for Essex had made extremely just observations on the effect of the measure, in aggravating the pressure of the poor-rates, Is effect in this view was most mischievous. It would prevent the possibility of reducing or alleviating this corroding evil. If the occupiers of land could expect relief by mortgaging the poor-rates, there would be mutual forbearance, mutual arrangements, mutual agreements, and mutual evasions, so as to destroy the best interests of the poorer classes. Wherever security could be given, that was, wherever distress was not extreme, we should do what we could. Where relief was indispensable, it was ra- ther a national concern, and national relief should be afforded; but in general, rather than increase the corroding evil that now formed such an alarming part of the national distress, he thought, if he might use the expression, that "we ought to work out our own salvation."

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

explained, that personal security was not abandoned; it was only put under certain modifications.

The House having resolved itself into a committee upon the bill, the chancellor of the exchequer said, he thought that was a fit time to read the names of the commissioners; they were, lord R. Seymour, sir T. Acland, Mr. W. Lamb, sir C. Edmonstone, sir James Shaw, sir J. Perring, Mr. Gooch, Mr. E. Littleton, Mr. Lutterell, Mr. C. Grant, sen., Mr. Curwen, Mr. Estcourt, Mr. Casberd, Mr. J. Smith, Mr. H. Swan, Mr. B. Harrison, Mr. Reid, Mr. Thornton, Mr. Philips, Mr. Angerstein, Mr. Baring, Mr. Joseph Tierney, and Mr. Bosanquet.

The report was afterwards brought up, and ordered to be taken into farther consideration on Tuesday.