HC Deb 25 March 1819 vol 39 cc1157-9
Mr. Sturges Bourne

next moved for leave to bring in a bill to prevent the Misapplication of the Poor Rates.—A similar bill had, he said, been under the consideration of the last parliament, but there had not been sufficient time for correcting and modifying its objectionable clauses. This he hoped would be now found to have been done, and that it was not ill calculated to produce its end, which was to prevent a very considerable misapplication of the poor rates. The House must be well aware, that one of the greatest evils arising out of the present system, was the payment of the wages of labour out of those rates. A man with, perhaps, a family of six children, represented to the parish officers that he was not able to maintain more than two. By the acts of Elizabeth and of George 1st, there was a case in which the children above the number of two, ought to be set to work in the parish workhouse; but, under all the circumstances, it was not surprising that this practice should not be resorted to. The bill was intended to provide for placing these children to work and sustaining them, instead of giving to their parents a relief which was often squandered and not applied to the benefit of the children. This conduct of parents was not, indeed, of new occurrence; it had been remarked in the reign of William 3rd by Mr. Locke, who had recommended the regulation adopted in the present measure. The experiment had been made in some parishes, and the applications for relief had become less numerous. One advantage would certainly be gained in the due application of the funds, and a third and more material one would be realized in those parishes where charitable institutions existed, by placing the children in schools where industry might be com- bined with education. He thought it must be an overstrained humanity which would urge that there was any thing harsh in separating children from parents who could not feed, much less educate them. It must be recollected, that persons in a higher sphere of life placed their offspring at some distance from their home for the purpose of instruction, and not unfrequently sent them out of the realm. The bill would also provide, that no relief should, for the future, be given to any able-bodied labourer in employment—a provision which, he hoped, would point out the necessity of granting him more adequate wages.

Mr. N. Calvert

highly approved of the proposed measure. It was the practice in many parishes to allow two shillings a-week for every child above two. The consequence was, that where such an allowance was made, the parents seldom exerted themselves to procure work. In the parish in which he resided, there was no such allowance, and the consequence was, that there was no distress.

Mr. Mansfield

was convinced that the principle of prohibiting any allowance to employed labourers in parishes where the children of the poor were maintained and educated, would be impracticable in the district with which he was most acquainted; and in which the wages of labour were very scanty and insufficient. He was a member of a committee above stairs, in which a certain class of workmen had proved, that although fully employed, it was impossible for the best hands, even when labouring for seventeen hours in the day, to earn more then six or seven shillings a week. Now, if there was an act of parliament prohibiting magistrates from granting such individuals relief from the poor rates, what would become of them?

Mr. Ricardo

thought, that the two great evils for which it was desirable to provide a remedy, were, the tendency towards a redundant population, and the inadequacy of the wages to the support of the labouring crasses; and he apprehended, that the measure now proposed would not afford any security against the continuance of these evils. On the contrary, he thought that, if a provision were made for all the children of the poor, it would only increase the evil; for if parents felt assured that an asylum would be provided for their children, in which they would be treated with humanity and ten- derness, there would then be no check to that increase of population which was so apt to take place among the labouring classes. With regard to the other evil, the inadequacy of the wages, it ought to be remembered, that if this measure should have the effect of raising them, they would still be no more than the wages of a single man, and would never rise so high as to afford a provision for a man with a family.

Leave was given to bring in the bill.