HC Deb 12 March 1818 vol 37 cc1055-8
Mr. Sturges Bourne

rose to make his promised motion for leave to bring in two bills, one for the Regulation of Parish Vestries, and the other for the Amendment of the Laws for the Relief of the Poor. He observed, that the Committee on the Poor Laws having already presented their report, in which they had gone very fully into the consideration of the evils of the present system, and having pointed out the most likely means of redressing them, it would not be necessary for him to detain the House at any length. The object of his first bill, among minor regulations, would be to give additional influence to persons in parish vestries in proportion to their contribution to the poor-rates. This proposition was not new to the House, and he was not aware that any objection had been made to it; and as far as he could learn from communications with all parts of the country it was a provision that would be very generally acceptable. The first object of his second bill would be a provision to enable parishes of considerable extent to appoint select vestries for the management of their concerns; the orders of which should not be over-ruled by any single magistrate, but only by two or more. The next object would be a provision qualifying persons having considerable property in the parish, though resident at a snort distance out of it, to become overseers. Another object would be to enable parishes to appoint an assistant overseer, with a salary. The next provision was one of considerable import- ance, although only in furtherance of the existing law; it was to make provision for carrying into better effect the statute of Elizabeth, as far as regarded setting to work the children of parents who were unable to maintain them. This was, at the present moment, a matter of the utmost consequence; for a practice most injurious had become prevalent to a very great extent, both in manufacturing and in agricultural districts, which ought by all means to be counteracted—that of lowering the wages of labour, and making good the deficiency out of the poor-rates. He could not refrain from naming one parish in particular, in which this practice had been carried farther than in any other that he had heard of. He had received information that in the parish of Botesdale, in Suffolk, the price of labour had been reduced to 6d. a day. So that to a labourer, the expense of maintaining whose family was 20 or 30 shillings a week, the person who had his labour paid three shillings, and the parish made good the remainder out of the poor-rates! This was a great evil, which had existed for some time, but was now increasing beyond all bounds. It was productive of the worst consequences. It was oppressive to the poor, and unjust to several other classes of society. The honest and industrious labourer was driven by it into a state of degradation, and the shopkeepers and others,- who did not employ the labourer, were nevertheless made to contribute to his wages. It was most desirable to correct so destructive and abominable a practice. The next provision of his proposed bill would tend again to further the execution of the existing law, by giving employment to those out of work; it would be to enable parishes to let small portions of land to industrious individuals; and, if adopted, would, he was persuaded, exhibit very beneficial results. Another object of the bill would be a provision to enable parish-officers to recover possession of tenements in which they had placed paupers, and of land which, in conformity to the last provision, they had let to them, without being reduced to the tedious and expensive process of ejectment. The next provision would be one of considerable importance, but not of novelty, as it had been suggested last session, since which, he had received numerous applications earnestly pressing its adoption. It would be in the case of towns, to enable parishes to rate the owners of houses, instead of the occupiers. In towns, by various means, a large proportion of the occupiers of houses escaped being rated, the consequence of which was a larger rent paid to the owners; and an immense burthen was thus thrown on the remainder. After several minor regulations, there would be a provision to authorize parishes to discriminate in the relief they afforded, and to regulate its amount and nature by the character and habits of those to whom it was granted; so that overseers should advance money to those who had squandered previous means, only by way of loan, to be repaid by instalments. It was at present a serious evil, that many of those who received pensions for their services in the army or navy, receiving those pensions at quarterly periods, dissipated them in two or three days, and then resorted to the parish for assistance. It was just that the parishes should apply to be allowed to pay those pensions: and there would be a provision in the bill to enable such persons as he had alluded to, to save themselves from the temptation of squandering their allowances by permitting them to receive their pensions by the week from their parishes. A great burthen was at present thrown on parishes in the persons of those who had no settlement at all in this country, natives of Ireland, Scotland, &c. At present these persons were committed as vagrants. It would be a provision in his bill that the magistrates should have power to pass them to the sea-port nearest their home, without committing them. Such was a slight sketch of the objects which the professed measures had in view; and the House would observe, that they tended rather to amend the administration of the laws than to alter the system itself. His intention was, if the House gave him leave, to bring in the bills as soon as possible, to fill up the blanks, and to have them printed, and circulated throughout the country, for the consideration of those who were most conversant with the subject, and most interested in it. The right hon. gentleman concluded with moving, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill for the Regulation of Parish Vestries."

General Hope

rose, to ask a question respecting the clause which regulated the payment of pensions, when

Lord Castlereagh

said, that the most satisfactory way would be to have the bill printed. Till that was done, the subject could not be discussed with any advantage.

Mr. Calcraft

agreed with the suggestion of the noble lord. He was glad to find that the fruits of the committee were coming forth; and from what he had heard of the intended bills, he had great hopes that some very beneficial change would be effected in the present system.

Leave was given to bring in a bill. Mr. S. Bourne also obtained leave to bring in a bill "for the Amendment of the Laws for the Relief of the Poor."