HC Deb 02 July 1821 vol 5 cc1478-83

On the order of the day for resuming the adjourned debate on the re-commitment of this bill,

Mr. Scarlett

said, he did not rise for the purpose of opening a discussion on this subject. His object was to withdraw the bill for this session. It had been his wish and determination that the bill should not pass without ample discussion. He need not remind the House of the causes which had prevented him from attaining that part of his object. He postponed it also, in order to have an opportunity of acquiring strength to make an adequate reply to the gallant member (sir R. Wilson). He knew that the gallant general had got together a great mass of legal matter to oppose him with. He confessed, that in order to meet this terrific battery, he was anxious to have a little time to brush up his law. He was aware that many inflammatory and calumnious misrepresentations had gone abroad on this subject. He assured the House that his motives in meddling with the matter were of the most pure description. He felt that the existing system of Poor-laws was most oppressive on one hand, and that it defeated its own end on the other. He had no motive but to restore the ancient system to its primitive state and intention. The only essential difference was, that the facility of removing paupers from the places of their residence was exploded. He proposed to renew this measure next session. If he should meet with encouragement he should bring forward another bill for the greater discrimination of the moral claims of those who sought relief, to prevent the profuse expenditure of the Poor-rates in some respects, by taking away some provisions, which acted as a premium for pauperism. One of these was the rule, that every man who had two children, and was not possessed of property to a certain amount, was exempted from serving in the militia. This might appear very reasonable in itself, but its effect certainly was to deprive the militia, and throw upon the parish many able bodied men. For the present he should say nothing more, but merely ask permission to withdraw the bill.

Sir R. Wilson

begged to assure the learned gentleman, that as it was his intention to renew this measure next session, he would find him at his post, prepared to dispute every inch of ground with him.

Mr. H. Gurney

said, that as the hon. and learned gentleman threatened them with a renewal of these most dangerous discussions in the ensuing session, he could not allow the bill to be withdrawn, without the strongest protest he was able to make against all the principles on which it was founded. He maintained, that the understood right of the poor to reasonable support was as old as the law of England; that up to this time it had been the boast of England, that no man could be left to starve; that the learned gentleman's bill went to the reversal of the law of the land, the laws of nature, and the law of God, and that its only possible tendency would be, to make the country a scene of rapine and violence and utter confusion, from one end to the other. The hon. gentleman referred to Harrison's preface to Holinshed, in which he gives a description of the state of England in the 60 years between 1526 and 1586, a period during which a total revolution in the prices of all things had taken place, similar to that which we had witnessed in Our own days, as affording a striking exposition of the situation in which we should have found ourselves, had we not been carried through, with whatever diffi- culty and inconvenience, by the existing Poor-Jaws. The dissolution of the monasteries, a third of whose revenues at least went to the relief of the poor, took place between 1535 and 1539. In 1526, Henry the 8th began the debasement of his coin which be continued to deteriorate to the middle of the century. On this came the flow of silver into Europe from America; and now, Harrison tells us, there was every Where great and increasing luxury; that the prices of wares were augmented five fold; that merchandize increased as prices advanced; that trades were more skilful, manufactures slighter; that 4l. of old rent was improved to 40, 50 and even 100l; that the small occupyings and the commons were withdrawn from the poor; and that though there were "more ground eared than ever, the price of corn was such, it was "impossible that the labouring man could reach unto it, but was driven to content himself with horse-corn." "Then," pursues Harrison, "some also do grudge at the great increase of people in these days." He says that the better part of the population were driven to emigrate to distant countries, and that the worse turned to rob; that there were in the country 10,000 regular thieves of 23 recognized fraternities, and that there was no county which was not infested by 300 or 400 wandering robbers, living solely by plunder. Harrison goes on to state, that "Henry 8th hong 72,000 thieves, and now the executions relaxing, those who dwell in the uplandish towns or villages shall live in but small safety or rest," and finishes by observing, that "the end must needs be that marshal law shall be executed upon them." During this period of 60 years there were ten regular insurrections. In thirteen years passed the Poor-law of the 43rd Elizabeth, and we have never had a rising of the Commons from that day to this. As to the clause impeding the marriages of the poor ["No no!" from Mr. Scarlett.] Mr. Gurney said he could hardly trust himself to speak on it. But it was an attempt to bring the detestable system of Mr. Malthus to bear upon the legislation ofthecountry,—a system which every chapter of sacred history condemns, every page of civil history confutes, and every map of a half-unpeopled world, after a duration of near 6,000 years, proves the absurdity of. Mr. G. said, that hardly forty years had elapsed since Dr. Price had convinced the philosophers of his day, that the country was going so fast to depopulation, that there would not be enough of Englishmen left to till the soil of their fathers. But he hoped and trusted that that House would never be led to legislate on the theories of such philosophers as these; and least of all, to give any countenance to a doctrine which in this country should recognize a right in the rich, to say to the poor, that they had no business to be born; that it was in the order of nature that they should starve; and that whatever might be the abundance of his superfluities, from him they could demand nothing.

Dr. Lushington

said, that he would certainly oppose such a bill, if he believed that it tended to degrade the poor; but his settled conviction was, that the increase of Poor-rates was an increase of misery. If he failed to express this conviction from any unpopularity td which it might expose him, he should prove himself destitute of moral courage. The effect of the present laws, was, to oblige the industrious and prudent to support the improvident and thoughtless; to mulct the single individual for the support of the married. Every country long inhabited had been obliged to have recourse to emigration. Why should England be an exception? The bill prohibiting artificers from emigrating was utterly unjust in its principle. He was glad, however, that the bill of his learned friend was withdrawn for the present; the public press, the great instrument of discussion in this country, would in the mean time examine its details, and when the House should come to consider it next session, they would be themselves better prepared, and the public would be found better informed respecting it.

Mr. T. Courtenay

said, in reference to what had been observed with respect to the popularity sought by the opponents of the bill, that if any thing gave him cause to regret the part which he had taken, it was, the praises which he had received for his conduct, in a quarter from which he neither expected nor desired them. He hoped that the learned gentleman would give the House, in the next session, an opportunity of discussing the Poor-laws upon their principle, and of coming to a determination, either to abandon or maintain that principle. He should for one, be prepared to maintain it. If out-voted, he most acquiesce; but he hoped that if the House should decide with him, for upholding the principle of the Poor-laws the supporters of the present bill would join with him in endeavouring to amend the laws in detail, by way of modification and qualification. He was even inclined to believe, that if the first bill of the hon. and learned gentleman should be defeated, he should be prepared to support, with a slight variation, the second bill, which he had that night announced his intention to introduce.

Mr. Harbord

said, he disapproved of the principle of the bill, though he was disposed to thank the learned gentleman for having called their attentions to a subject of great importance.

Mr. C. F. Palmer

considered the Poor-laws as the chartered rights of the poor, and hoped the House would pause before it consented to touch them.

Colonel Davies

conceived it to be unfair to take that opportunity of making general declarations against the measure. Although he had been desired to oppose it, yet so convinced was he of its necessity, and so friendly to its general purpose, that without pledging himself to support the precise bill, he felt that some measure of that nature was quite necessary.

Mr. Monck

said, he considered the Poor-laws to be an ingenious device for obtaining the greatest quantity of labour at the least expense. They ought therefore to be abolished; but previously to any attempt of that kind, redress must be given of great and numerous grievances.

Mr. Scarlett

said, he would state to the House the opinions of an individual, with respect to the tendency of our Poor-laws, who certainly did not deserve the imputation of advocating mad schemes. The person whose opinions he was about to stale to the House was Dr. Franklin. That eminent individual had said, that "he was for doing good to the poor, but he doubted as to the means of effecting that object. In his youth he had travelled much, and he found that in those countries where most was done for the poor by the state, their situation was the most deplorable. He thought that those who passed the English Poor-laws took away the greatest inducement to frugality, industry, and morality; and had substituted a premium on idleness and crime. He was of opinion that a great change in the habits of the people would soon be perceived, if the-Poor-laws were repealed."

The order was then discharged.