§ When the Gallery was again opened, Mr. Western was on his legs, addressing the House on the importance of affording the fullest opportunity for discussing the motion of his hon. and learned friend on the subject of the Poor Laws.
The Marquis of Londonderry
expressed his readiness to concur in any arrangement that appeared desirable to accomplish the object which the hon. member had in view. His personal acknowledg- 573 ments were due to the hon. and learned gentleman, who, notwithstanding his extensive professional labours, had found time to turn his thoughts to this most important subject. As the bearings of the measure which he had to propose must necessarily be of a complicated nature, perhaps it would be better, since on the first opening of his plan it could not be expected that hon. members would be prepared to enter upon the discussion, that the hon. and learned gentleman should state that which he had to propose, or the outline of his plan, and then Jet it stand over for future consideration. He would give the subject his best attention, and he quite agreed with the hon. gentleman that the fullest opportunity ought to be afforded for debating it.
§ Mr. Scarlett
said, that as a short delay would be of no material importance, he would consult the pleasure of the House, and open the subject now, or postpone it until a future evening. [Cries of "Go on, go on."] As such seemed to be the will of the House, he would proceed, as shortly as the nature of the subject would admit, to state the grounds of the amendments which he wished to make in the laws relating to the poor. Aware of the vast importance of the subject—aware that one of greater importance could not be brought under the consideration of the House, he perhaps ought to apologize that so humble an individual as himself should intrude it upon their attention. It was with some difficulty that he could persuade himself to offer a proposition for altering the poor laws that had not previously received the sanction of the government of the day. Had he thought that such a measure, or any thing like such a measure as he had to propose, would have been originated by ministers, lie would have been the last person in the House to anticipate their intentions by bringing this measure forward. He would go further and say, that if he had had any reason to believe, that the body of gentlemen who formed the committee appointed some years ago, to inquire into that subject, had entertained any design of bringing forward, the measures of which they then suggested the outline in their valuable report, he should have felt it his duty to leave the business in their hands. But, understanding from some who were Members of that committee, that they had no such intention, he ventured to take it upon himself, from a deep and solid con- 574 viction, that something roust be dope, at no distant period to arrest this great and growing evil.
He would now proceed, to state that which he had to suggest, and in doing so, he begged leave to say, that the subject was not new to his consideration. It had for many years occupied his thoughts, and he had made the most anxious inquiries into the cause and character of the evil. The House would easily perceive that there might be some excuse for a person so much employed out of the House as he was, if he had not possessed himself of all the information which had been laid before them from time to time. He had read the reports which had been made on this subject; but he had not had an opportunity of doing so, until after he had given his notice. It was, however, with much satisfaction, that he found that there was no view which he had previously taken of the poor-laws, which was not confirmed and supported by the reports which had been laid on their table. It was satisfactory to find, that what he had to propose was thus sanctioned by gentlemen who had given so much of their time and attention to the subject; and this co-incidence led him to hope, that that which he had to submit would be more worthy of the consideration of the House than he could otherwise have hoped that it would be likely to prove. The great evil in connexion with the present poor-laws, which must press on every man's mind, was this—that by law an unlimited provision was made for the poor. To this fact he wished particularly to call the attention of the House. The effect of making an unlimited provision for the poor, it would appear à priori must be this—it must operate as a premium for poverty, indolence, licentiousness, and immorality. By the doom of nature man must earn his bread by the sweat of ms brow, and nothing could be more injurious to a country than the adoption, of a principle in legislation which held out to any considerable portion of the population an exemption from such sentence, and disconnected the ideas of labour and of profit. The poor-laws held out to the labourer a prospect of relief, not in old age, not in sickness—but a refuge from the consequences of his own indolence. They had a tendency to degrade the character of the man who received relief under them, to lower him in his own estimation, to diminish his industry, and 575 thus to involve, by degrees, in their fatal circle the whole mass of the labouring population. This being the effect which might be expected à priori, it was naturally to be supposed, that the evil would increase, and continue to increase with additional rapidity. This would be found to be the fact. The evil thus continuing to increase, must at some, time or other—if the period were not now rapidly approaching—become so great, that all the industry that could be bestowed on the land would be insufficient to enable it to maintain our augmented pauper population. In some parts of the country, it was well known, that on account of the heavy pressure of the poor-rates it was not worth the farmer's while to cultivate the land; and if the evil continued to increase, it would at length come to this, that the poor-rates would be so enormous, that the farmer would not care to cultivate the soil, even if the landlord would give him the land for nothing.
He would now proceed to state the result of the inquiries which he had made; and first, as to the effect of the present laws en the feelings of the people. The relief was scarcely considered in the light of charity: there was nothing of grace about it; it was bestowed without compassion, and received without gratitude. There was another consideration which was paramount to all others—it dissolved between the poor and the rich those ties which had formerly bound together the different orders of society; there was no longer gratitude on the one hand, or real charity on the other; the poor received without thanks what they were entitled to receive, and the rich gave without compassion what, they were compelled to bestow. Such was the direct operation of these laws; and, let the House examine still closer their result, by looking at the progressive increase of the poor-rates, which appeared to be inseparable from their operation. They would find, that so rapid had been the augmentation of the poor-rates, that unless some attempt was made to stem the torrent, they must at no distant period absorb all the land in the kingdom, and thus consume that upon which the poor had altogether to rely. In tracing back the produce of the poor-rates, it would be found that in the years 1748, 1749, and 1750, the annual amount was about 689,971l. In 1776, it was 1,530,804l. making in twenty-six 576 years an advance of nearly 1,000,000l. In the year 1783, the amount, was 2,000,637l. making an increase of half a million in seven years. In 1803, the amount was 4,267,963l. making an increase in the twenty years preceding of almost 2,200,000l. In 1813, the amount was 6,129,000l.; so that it appeared to have increased in ten years two millions. Looking therefore at this increase, during the successive years he had mentioned, it would be found to stand thus: During the first period there would be found an increase of half a million in thirteen years: in the second period, the increase was half a million in seven years: in the third period it was one million an the same space of time; and in the last period at was a. million in. five years. In the year 1815, the poor-rates amounted to 6,129,844l. If they were suffered to go on progressively at this rate, unaffected either by peace or war (for such seemed to be the anomalous nature of their operation) their gradual accumulation must, as he had said before, absorb; the whole property of the country; indeed it would very soon be found that a number of parishes would be utterly unable to relieve their poor. The hon. and learned gentleman next read an extract from a document which appeared in the report of a committee of the House of Lords, respecting the state of the parish of Namptwich, in Cheshire. In the year 3 816, the parish officers addressed a public letter to the inhabitants, in which they stated that the increase of resident paupers from 1781, to 1815, was from 50 to 90. The increase of out paupers for the same period was in the same proportion. In 1781 only there were six bastard children charged on the parish. In 1815, they had increased to 37. Yet the price of corn was nearly the same at both periods, and wages considerably higher. The House, he was satisfied, would therefore agree with him in thinking, that a dependence on parochial relief caused a diminution of individual exertion, an inattention to economy, and a relaxation of morals. It was remarked, that in proportion to the liberality of the parish was the increase of paupers, the increase of vice and dissipation. Parochial aid extended to persons supposed not able to find employment, was found to be attended with consequences most injurious, most destructive of the best habits and the moral character of the people. It took away 577 the necessity of labouring. Men, in order to indulge in idleness, became paupers. Thus the feelings of the people were gradually blunted, and the labouring class, formerly considered with so much justice the very strength and pride of the state, were in danger of becoming a disgrace and a burthen.
Such being the state of things, and the sense entertained by the country of the operation of the Poor-laws, it became absolutely necessary that something should at length be done, in order to stem the torrent. The simple remedy, in such a case was, to ascertain the source of the evil, and then take away the cause. This was the obvious course, unless, in removing the cause, a greater evil was likely to be inflicted—than that which the removal was intended to remedy. The first step to be taken was, in his judgment, to limit the provision collected under the existing laws. With this view he meant to suggest the declaring a maximum, beyond which there should be no assessment for these rates. Now, according to the attention which he had bestowed upon this part of the subject, he thought it most expedient that the last year's rates throughout the kingdom should be fixed as the Poor-rate maximum. They were not then at the highest ratio; but they were perhaps nearest to it; and he should propose; "that from and after the passing of the act, it shall be unlawful to assess or levy in any parish or place in England any larger assessment for the relief of the poor than that assessed and levied for them in the year ending on the 25th of March, 1821."
That was the first measure which he intended to submit to the House; and if he found that they were likely to go with him in the principle which he had laid down, it was his intention to follow up such a bill as he had sketched, with another, having for its object the establishment of a different system of administering relief under the Poor-laws. It was well known that the original object of the legislature, when the act of Elizabeth was passed, was, not to disseminate a premium for idleness, but to confer a relief for those whom old age or infirmity had disabled, and rendered incapable of supporting themselves by the efforts of then-own industry. A practice, however, had since grown up in the administrative system of those laws, not to confine the relief to the original objects of the law, 578 for whom it was alone intended, but to extend it (which was done in very many parts of the kingdom) to persons who represented themselves as unable to obtain work. The abuses of this modern practice were incalculable. He thought it absolutely indispensable that the legislature should correct either the law or the practice. To correct the latter was perhaps impossible; if even it could be practised, the effect would perhaps be deemed extremely severe; for it would be retrospective in its operation, and would consequently affect large families reared up under the security of a protection which the law led them to think permanent. He thought that much attention was due to the families of the poor under such circumstances—for instance, every gentleman acquainted with agricultural pursuits knew that when the labouring man married, he reckoned on having the second child supported by the parish, and the overseer had regularly to meet a claim, of 2s. or 2s. 6d. per week for that purpose, A new principle ought to be infused into the poor. Why was not the labouring man to be impressed with the same necessity for husbanding his resources for his family, that were felt by other classes in society? It was obviously of the same advantage to all classes, that such an impression should prevail, and that a most immoral system must be the result of any particular relaxation from so just and provident a responsibility. His second provision would then be of this nature—"That it shall not be lawful for any overseer of the poor or justice of the peace to order or apportion any relief to be given to any person who, at the time of passing this act, shall be single, except in cases of actual infirmity of body, old age, or debility by sickness or accident." The effect of such an enactment would, he thought, be, to restore habits of industry and provident regulation among the poor, and to make them look a little more to their own resources when they had them, instead, as was now the case, of compelling the really industrious classes of the community to sacrifice a portion of their hard earnings to support the idle.
If these two measures were deemed acceptable, he should have a third to offer, upon which he was perfectly prepared to meet a contrariety of sentiment. His own opinion upon it was, however, fixed; and as it was the result of long 579 reflection, he hardly thought it could be shaken by any argument which might be opposed to it. As the law now stood, all parish pampers might be removed from the place at which they sought relief, to any other where they had been born, or might claim a settlement. The acts of the 13th and 14th of Charles 2nd enabled justices of the peace to order the removal of such paupers. Now, the effect of these laws was, to restrict the free circulation of labour, and to expose the labourer, who, being unable to obtain employment in his own parish, honestly endeavoured to seek it elsewhere, to the penalty of being seized and sent back to a parish where there existed no demand for his labour, and where, from the situation of the place, he was sure to remain a pauper. A more oppressive and impolitic law than that never existed any where: it made poverty a crime, and its punishment banishment. This was at once cruel and unjust, and most certainly as injurious to the community as it was to the individual. Suppose any member of parliament were to get up in his place, and propose such a bill as the following—"Whereas an incapacity to obtain bread by labour, by reason of bodily infirmity, or old age, or accident, is a great crime, and deserves exemplary punishment; be it therefore enacted, that if, from and after the passing of this act, any individual shall, by sudden calamity, old age, or scarcity of provisions, be unable to maintain himself and family, he shall be taken before two of his majesty's justices of the peace, and, on proof of the fact, be forthwith sent to such part of England where himself or family, was born, without any regard whatever to his or their maintenance there"—would not the House say, that the man who made such a legislative proposal was not only mad, but grossly inhuman; and yet he asked, where was the difference between it and the present code of our Poor-laws? Indeed, the impolicy and inconvenience of the law itself was soon felt after the passing of it, in the time of Charles 2nd, and much pains were taken by subsequent statutes, to modify and regulate the arrangements for carrying the provisions into execution. The consequence of these modifications was, the ultimate establishment of an artificial system, founded upon arbitrary and often imaginary principles. Well might Burn, when he wrote in the operation of this clause in the 580 Poor-laws, declare that it had led to a greater quantity of litigation and hostile divisions than any other law on the statute book, ay or than all the other jaws from the time of Magna Charta put together. Such was the inevitable result of living under an artificial code of laws—the law was first made absurd, and then, instead of its being repealed to remove the incongruity, an artificial system was created in order to keep it in operation. A part, then, of his object was, to abolish the law for removing paupers from one place to another by an order from justices of the peace, or otherwise. He anticipated that it would be objected to this alteration, that it would entail upon manufacturing towns a heavy expense, for supporting those for whom they had no longer the employment which first attracted them to the spot. He had selected Manchester as being the place where the operation, whatever it might be under such circumstances, must be particularly felt. The labouring classes collected in that town were numerous, and, according to the present practice, as they became paupers, they and their families were removed, some to London, some elsewhere, by the Manchester parochial officers and justices; but in looking at the assessment for the poor at Manchester, he found it less than that in the agricultural parishes. In the year 1816, when a great additional expense was thrown upon the town by the equalization of the county rates, he found that the assessment for the poor was 8s. 6d. in the pound; it was afterwards much less; while at the same time in the midland and other agricultural counties the assessment amounted to 20s. in the pound on four-fifths of the rent. What would be the effect of the proposed alteration upon the town of Manchester r Suppose it prevented them from removing, four or five hundred families in the course of the year, and that this made a corresponding increase in the local assessment for their support; yet still the town would be saved the support of its own distant poor, who were conveyed back according to the present practice. On principle, however, he objected to the power of sending away, when business declined, those by whose labours, in the time of demand, the town had become enriched; and sending them away to places to which they had preciously contributed nothing. In looking at the consequence pf the alteration, he thought it could easily he 581 shown, that no serious apprehension need be entertained; the effect would, in point of fact, be to make that practice general among the manufacturers, which was now only partially adopted. In one of the largest manufactories in Manchester, an excellent and politic practice had prevailed, which prevented a single labourer from being thrown by that factory upon the parish. The condition of the manufactory was, that each workman should, while employed, subscribe a small sum to a fund which was reserved in case of contingency^ for his future support. The hon. and learned gentleman then detailed some of the expenses incurred by the Manchester parochial officers for the removal of out-poor, and compared them with the expense incurred for their own poor who were brought back; and showed, that no great difference of expense would be likely to accrue to them from the proposed alteration. In Manchester it was the practice not to hire servants for the whole year, to prevent their gaining a permanent settlement; but there was a very largo number of Irish labourers, as well as some Scotch, who were fixed residents in the place. There were in the parochial accounts standing heads for the Irish, the English, and the Scotch poor; and it was a remarkable fact, which ought to be mentioned to the honour of the Scotch people, that only four had ever been known to require relief. The list of Irish, in 1815, was 1,676, and it had greatly augmented since, as well as the English; but the educated, enlightened, and industrious people whom he had first named, had only furnished four instances of obtaining parochial relief at Manchester, The hon. and learned gentleman concluded by summing up the three measures which he had opened to the House: the first was, the establishing the assessments for the last year as a maximum: the second, the preventing parochial relief where the parties merely grounded their claim upon being unable to obtain work: and the third, the abandonment of the power enabling justices to order the removal of paupers. He knew it had been held out, that the fear of removal operated as a check to pauperism. But this check would not be needed when his other measures were adopted. The proper check was the fear of poverty. That there would be times when there would be need of relief for poverty, beyond what his measures would supply, 582 he admitted; but, for a remedy they might trust to what had never been known to fail—the benevolence of the country. Temporary distress should be met by temporary remedies, but they should not perpetuate a law which went on increasing the evil which it professed to remedy. The hon. and learned gentleman concluded with moving, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Law relating to the Relief of the Poor in England."
The Marquis of Londonderry
begged leave to express his sincere thanks to the hon. and learned gentleman, for the pains he had evidently taken with this most important subject. In refraining at present from making any observations upon the details which had been so forcibly submitted by the hon. and learned gentleman, he trusted that he would not infer from his silence any want of zeal, or any disinclination to lend his assistance in considering the whole subject. As the hon. and learned gentleman at present merely moved for leave to bring in his bill, sufficient time would no doubt be hereafter allowed to consider the whole question.
§ Sir R. Wilson
said, that though he acknowledged the good intentions of his hon. and learned friend, he must deprecate any proposition to take from the unemployed industrious poor a subsistence to which they had just the same right as every gentleman had to his estate. If the Poor-rates were oppressive, let a reduction of taxation be first tried, before they attempted to alter the law of the land.
said, that although he could not entirely agree in the propriety of the measure recommended by his hon. and learned friend, yet he begged leave to tender him his most sincere thanks for having undertaken the investigation of so important and pressing a subject. It appeared to him, that in the Report, which reflected so much credit upon those concerned in drawing it up, one main reason of the increase of Poor-rates had been entirely overlooked. Whoever would trace the rise and progress of taxation, or the national debt, would find that it was regularly accompanied by a diminution of the prices of labour; and thus they would find the increase of Poor-rates accounted for. It was not his intention to enter int6M' the question at length upon: the present occasion but, when the fit opportunity 583 for full discussion arrived, he was prepared to prove the fact, beyond dispute, that as the prove of corn had increased, in the same proportion had the value of labour diminished. Therefore gentlemen must not expect to find relief from the evils of which they complained, by the present of any other measure of the legislature, unless they were prepared to advance the price of labour. His hon. and learned friend had divided his measure into three distinct propositions. The first was, that a maximum of rates should b fixed. Now, it was known to many hon. members that this had been tried locally, and that it had been found to fail. The nest proposition was, a return to the pure administration of the law of Elizabeth, and this he took to be an extremely wise recommendation. Whoever looked to the practice of country magistrates since the report to which he alluded had been printed, would se that the methods used to carry the Poor-laws into effect had been much more strict and efficacious than before. Unless, however, even if this part of the measure should be accomplished, it could be insured either that the price of labour should be increased, or that the price of provisions should remain at its present low state, it would be impossible to keep the Poor-rates down. The next proposition was, a return to the pure administration of the law of Elizabeth, arid this he took to be an extremely wise Recommendation. Whoever looked to the practice of country magistrates since the repost to which he alluded had been printed, would see that the methods used to carry the Poor-laws into effect had been much more strict and efficacious than before. Unless, however, even if this part of the-measure should be accomplished, it could be insured either that the price of labour should be increased, or that the price of provisions should remain at its present low state, it would be impossible to keep the Poor-rates down. The last proposition related to the question of settlements. He must confess, that he was afraid of the introduction of any new system upon this branch of the question. He was aware that the existing regulations led to much litigation, and that they possessed numerous and considerable evils. But still he was afraid of any new laws, because he thought they would still be liable to create litigation, disquiet, and expense besides other inconveniences which could not be foreseen. He must confess that the plan of his hon. and learned friend would tend to simplify this part of the question, but he was afraid that the difficulties of carrying it into effect were so great that he could not hope to see his hon. and learned friend's expectations realized. Having said thus much, he did not mean to object to the introduction of the bill; on the contrary, he should give it that due consideration which any measure, coming from a member of such talent and such standing in the country as his hon. and learned friend, deserved, and particularly a measure relating to so momentous and important a subject to the country. He did not, he 584 must say, view the operation of the present system in the same' light that many intelligent individuals did; He did not perceive that alteration in the habits, conduct, and energies of the people of this country, which some gentlemen imagined had taken place, and which they ascribed to the operation of the Poor-laws. On the contrary, he would say, that a more energetic, industrious, and obedient population than that which existed at present in this country, was not to be found in any other part of the globe, where a spirit of liberty pervaded society. In the year 1740, the same gloomy predictions were uttered, with respect to the Poor-laws dissolving the moral feelings of the people which were now indulged in. But, let the House look to the conduct of the people, to the progress of society in this country, to its increase in wealth and commerce, and to its wonderful energy in arms, since that period. From 1776 to 1S15, the period during which the Poor-rates had increased most rapidly, was also the period of the most rapid improvement in the commerce and manufactures of this country. He ascribed the increase of those rates to the want of an increased price for labour, to the lax administration of the law as it stood, to the national debt, and to the circumstance that, whether these rates amounted to six, seven, or eight millions, they absorbed a considerable proportion of the wages of agricultural labour in this country.
§ Mr. Sturges Bourne
said, he considered it as a matter of congratulation to himself and to the House, that this subject had been taken up by so able and competent a mind as that of the hon. and learned gentleman by whom it had now been brought forward. The propositions which the hon. and learned gentleman had submitted to the House were not new to it. With respect to the first point proposed by the hon. and learned gentleman, namely, that of a maximum, it had been brought under the notice of a committee by a gentleman to whose opinion great deference was paid. He, in common with many others, was, in the first instance, startled at such a proposition; and, in drawing up the report, pains were taken to place it in the clearest point of view. Reference was made to its having already been acted on as a local provision. The Isle of Wight, the place where the experiment was tried, was eminently calculated to give it every fair chance of success. 585 The plan did not, however, answer. Application was made to the legislature for an increase of the maximum, and he believed it went as far as double the sum originally proposed. The object of the committee from which the report emanated was, not only to introduce measures for legislative enactment, but to bring the whole subject fairly before the House and the country. He need not state his concurrence in the principles laid down by the hon. and learned gentleman, because he was a party to the drawing up of the Report upon which they were founded. The committee had laid before the House every thing which they considered as tending to elucidate the true merits of the question, as far as matters of direct information went, and then they proceeded to notice all the subsidiary and auxiliary measures which they held to be desirable. One of the strongest of these recommendations was the encouragement of select vestries, which they considered as being of the first importance in connection with the great object of their inquiries. He mentioned this the more particularly, because he hoped that it would have some effect with the hon. and learned gentleman, so as to induce him to consider it in the framing of his bill. There were many cases in which the establishing of select vestries had diminished the Poor-rates to a great extent. In the town of Newbury they had been reduced one-third in the course of two years. In many other places in the north of England, the best effects had resulted from them. At a village near Richmond, in Yorkshire, the rates had been decreased in a similar proportion to the diminution at Newbury. In the populous town of Preston, in Lancashire, the decrease had been still greater1; it amounted to three-fifths in one year. He made this statement, because it would be of the greatest use if other parishes who were not acquainted with the advantages to be derived from, or even of the existence of the law, should be induced to resort to the plan of appointing select vestries. The second measure, relating to the right of claiming relief, was the great object to which the attention of the House should be directed. If that were once settled on a solid and equitable basis, he thought all the evils of the present system would be corrected. The last report of the committee was particularly directed to that point, and he had been asked to carry the principle into 586 execution by introducing a declaratory law that relief should be afforded, to the aged and infirm only. As to the third point, great objection, had been made to the proposal for making two years' residence a settlement, by honourable members, in consequence of instruction from constituents; and he feared the hon. and learned gentleman would meet with much opposition from the same quarter.
§ Mr. Monck
said, that though, in their debates, they reprobated the principle of an agrarian law or of Spencean justice, yet, in acts of parliament, they had absolutely adopted that principle; for gentlemen of landed property were the nominal owners of the land, while the rents and profits silently found their way into the hands of the parish officers, to be distributed to the poor. The system of our Poor-rates were extremely objectionable. They degraded the poor man, because he received that in the shape of alms, which ought to be given to him in the more creditable shape of wages. But, though the system was objectionable, he was not prepared to abridge the poor of that assistance which they had hitherto received. He traced the great amount of the Poor-rates to excessive taxation; and before he abridged the rights of the poor, he must see a repeal of the malt-tax, and of the salt-tax, and, above all, he demanded in their name a repeal of the obnoxious Corn bill.
§ Mr. Mansfield
felt it his duty to make a remark upon the proposition of the hon. and learned gentleman, not to allow parish relief except to the sick and infirm. In the large town which he represented, one-half of the manufacturers had at one time been thrown out of employ; and that not from a combination of the masters, but from the uncertainty of trade. They had, in consequence, suffered severe distress; and what would have been their situation, had such a bill as the one now proposed then been in operation?
observed, that although there were some parts of his hon. and learned friend's bill to which he should object if taken separately, yet to the whole united he had no objection whatever. On the contrary, he augured great good from its adoption, and thought it right to take an early occasion of bearing his testimony to the salutary effects of the act passed upon the proposition of the right hon. the member for Christchurch some years ago, especially in those dis- 587 tricts of Lancashire with which he was more immediately acquainted.
§ Mr. Ricardo
expressed his surprise that any apprehension should be entertained of the tendency of his hon. and learned friend's bill to create embarrassment in the law of settlement, as the great object of that bill was, to remove all difficulty and litigation with respect to that law. It had been observed that labour, instead of being paid in wages by employers, had been paid out of the Poor-rates. If so, why then should not the amount of such payment be deducted in fairness from those rates? This was one of the objects of his Hon. and learned friend's bill; because that bill, proposed to have the labourer paid in just wages by his employer, instead of having him transferred to the Poor-rates. The effect, indeed, of his hon. and learned friend's measure would be, to regulate the price, of labour by the demand, and that was the end peculiarly desired. With respect to the pressure of the taxes and the national debt upon the, poor, that pressure could not be disputed, especially as it took away from the rich the means of employing the poor: but he had no doubt, if the supply of labour were reduced below the demand, which was the purpose of his hon. and learned friend's measure, that the public debt and taxes would bear exclusively upon the rich, and the poor would be most materially benefitted.
§ Mr. M. A. Taylor
highly eulogised the principle and tendency of his hon. and learned friend's proposition, which he had no doubt would be productive of great good. He considered that the real evil of the Poor-laws arose out of the question of settlements. The litigation and expense occasioned by the disputes upon this question were beyond the conception of those who had not been concerned in them.
§ Leave was given to bring in the bill.
§ Mr. Scarlett
then brought in the bill. In moving the first reading, he said he wished to make a few observations upon the, remarks of his gallant friend. When his gallant friend stated, that the object of the bill was to abridge the rights, of the poor,' he stated that which was not the fact, and that which must have been founded in an entire misunderstanding of what had fallen from him. The object of the bill was, to increase the independence and to improve the condition of the poor of this country; and if it had, as his gallant 588 friend represented, an opposite tendency, he trusted he was one of the last men who would be found to support it. He was of opinion, that that which would be most fatal to the independence of the poor, was, a feeling that they had a right to the allowances granted to them by the present system of Poor-laws. There was one argument which he had forgot to mention, that went strongly in favour of the bill. It was this—that the compulsory law for granting relief, had been the great cause of the low price of labour. In the North, where the Poor-rates were less than in any other part of the kingdom, wages were considerably higher; and land was better cultivated and better let there than in the south. It certainly appeared sowewhat paradoxical, but it was quite true, that in Sussex and Surrey the same kind of land, lying in a better climate, would not fetch so much rent as in Yorkshire, where the price of labour was considerably higher. The hon. and learned member then alluded to a paper which he held; in his hand, containing a statement made by a Mr. Walker, who had applied the principles upon which the bill was founded, to a particular district in the town of Manchester for four years. The result was, a regular diminution of the rates to a very great extent. The statement went on to express the conviction of the writer, that, if he had the means of carrying this plan to its full extent, in a very few years there would be no Poor-rates at all, except for the disabled and impotent, who were their proper objects.
§ The bill was then read a first time.