HC Deb 12 May 1825 vol 13 cc571-3
Mr. Monck

moved for leave to bring in a bill to prohibit in certain cases, the payment of any part of the Wages of Labourers out of the Poor Rates. The hon. gentleman observed, that this practice of rendering every agricultural labourer partially a pauper, went not only to annihilate all independency of principle among the lower classes, but to incumber the country with a population which it had no means of providing for. The law, as it stood, amounted absolutely to a bounty upon idleness. A labourer who, by day-work, earned, say 8s. a-week, was unable, if he had a family, to live on this, and received, perhaps, 6s. therefore in aid from the parish. If he was a man industriously inclined, and by task-work or other extra exertion, raised his 8s. earnings to 12s., what was the consequence? He had his toil for his pains: for then the parish gave him 2s. And even this was a slighter evil than the encouragement which this practice gave to early marriages. In his natural state, the bachelor stood better off than the married man: his gains might be equal, and his burthens were less; and this comparative ease of condition formed the true and legitimate check to improvident unions. But our law now neutralized that check entirely; or rather, indeed, gave a bounty to a man for producing children which he could not maintain. The law said now, that a single man should not earn so much by his daily labour as a married man. While he was a bachelor, he must labour at so low a rate, that all hope of making any provision for matrimony was out of the question; bat he had only to marry at once, without thinking of consequences and the parish would at once increase his wages, and give a pauper's support, as fast as they were born, to his children. The hon. member, after commenting generally upon the oppressiveness as well as the impolicy of the existing system, sat down by moving for leave to bring in his bill.

Mr. J. Benett

was not disposed to oppose the bringing in of this bill, though he doubted much whether the good results would follow which the hon. member predicated of it. He always viewed with alarm any approach towards an alteration in the poor laws; as hitherto such alterations had been but rarely for the better. The complaint was not so much against the law as its administration; and the governors of the poor were charged with too much liberality in applying the funds destined for the use of the poor. But surely, when the agricultural people were themselves the largest contributors to the poor rates, nobody could quarrel with them for dispensing their own money too generously. The shop-keepers might contribute a portion; but they also gained by the better condition of the poor, in an increased sale of their goods. No man was more anxious than he was to see the poor of this country comfortably provided for; but, in his conscience, he believed it was not in the power of this House to legislate effectually upon the subject.

Sir George Chetwynd

undertook to affirm that it was not legal to pay labourers' wages out of the poor's rates. He was aware that such a practice existed in some places; but he had never heard it justified by a lawyer in that House. It appeared to him, therefore, unnecessary to pronounce, by a new bill, upon the illegality of that which had never been defended.

Mr. Monck ,

in reply, stated, that he was still of opinion that under the statute of Elizabeth, it was lawful to apply the poor rates in aid of wages. By that act the overseers were bound to provide for the poor, and of course to supply such deficiency in their wages as would enable them to subsist. He hoped the House would entertain the subject, as it appeared to him not inferior to that of Catholic emancipation, or any other that might be brought before that House.

Leave was given to bring in the bill.