HC Deb 25 March 1824 vol 10 cc1413-5
Lord John Russell,

after having presented a petition from Matthew Phillips, civil engineer and surveyor, for an inquiry into the condition of the labouring poor, proceeded to make his promised motion on this subject. The noble lord said, that a committee had sat upon the subject some years ago, of which committee a right hon. gentleman opposite was chairman. In consequence of the report of that committee, a bill had been brought into parliament, and he was free to confess, that in that bill a right course of legislation had been commenced. But, although a right course of legislation was commenced, yet much remained to be done; and more especially with respect to that which, in his present view, ought to be the principal object of the select committee for which he was about to move; namely, the practice which prevailed in some parts of the country of paying the wages of the labourer out of the poor-rates. This was' a practice in every way so indefensible, that it was exceedingly desirable that some measure should be devised to stop such a vagrant system. One of the resolutions which he should have to propose in that committee was, a recommendation to magistrates not to allow, for the future, any portion of the wages of labour to be paid out of the poor-rates by the overseers. There were two modes of proceeding: that of stopping the evil at once, by legislative prohibition; the other mode was that of carrying into effect the provisions of a bill brought in some time ago by the right hon. gentleman for making a distinction between the industrious and de- serving poor, and those of an opposite character. He would now move, "That a select committee be appointed to inquire into the condition of the labouring classes, particularly with a view to the practice of paying part of the wages of labour out of the poor-rates; and to report their opinion thereon to the House."

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, he had no wish whatever to discourage the noble lord, in the pursuit of the object which he had in view; but he really thought that the noble lord had better limit his motion to the particular object which he desired at present to attain. The noble lord now proposed an inquiry into the condition of the labouring poor, generally. It would surely be much better to draw a line, which should define the points to which the committee were to direct their attention. For let the noble lord consider into what a number of classes the labouring poor divided themselves. First, there were the agricultural classes: then, there were those connected with mechanics; then, there were the labouring classes, belonging to towns, not manufacturing; then, there were the manufacturing classes of labourers. As the noble lord's motion now stood, the committee must inquire into the condition of all these classes; although it was clear, from the noble lord's own statement, that his object was, the appointment of a committee to inquire into the practice which prevailed in some parts of the country, of paying the wages of labour out of the poor-rates; and to consider what measures might be effectually adopted for the abolition of such a practice. If the noble lord's motion were to be agreed to as it stood, the committee would be overwhelmed with the multiplicity of its business. Now, nothing could be more unwise than to devolve on any committee of that House too extensive a labour. It was, of all others, the worst mode of obtaining any advantageous result. In any case in which the powers of a committee were found to be too limited, it was very easy to extend them. If the noble lord accepted the words which he had suggested, or would substitute others of similar import, he assured the noble lord, that he would not throw any difficulty in his way; and that he would not hereafter object to any extension of the powers of the committee, should such an extension be deemed advisable.

Lord John Russell

said, he had no ob- jection whatever to adopt the recommendation of the right hon. gentleman [hear, hear, hear!].

The motion, as modified by Mr. Peel, was then agreed to; and a select committee was accordingly appointed, "to inquire into the practice which prevails in some parts of the country, of paying the Wages of Labour out of the poor-rates, and to consider whether any and what measures can be carried into execution for the purpose of altering that practice; and to report their observations thereupon to the House."