HC Deb 17 April 1828 vol 18 cc1547-57
Mr. Wilmot Horton

rose, to move for leave to bring in a Bill "to enable Parishes in England, under given regulations, and for a limited period, to mortgage their Poor-rates, for the purpose of assisting Voluntary Emigration." His hon. friend, who had just addressed the House, had stated, that a measure of this nature, under certain modifications, would be attended with consequences advantageous to those parishes where a redundant population was concentrated, and for whose labour there was no demand. But, although he was prepared to allow that, as far as the manufacturing districts were concerned, a beneficial change had taken place since the early part of last year, he was not prepared to concede, that the state of Ireland was such as to induce him to think that a superabundant population did not exist, in every proper sense of the word. Unless terms was very specifically defined, it was impossible that two parties arguing could arrive at the same conclusion, from their having different ideas attached to the same words. Some members would contend broadly, that there was not too much population. The hon. baronet (sir J. Wrottesley) said, he had always considered the population the real wealth of the country. By diminishing the population, therefore, the hon. baronet supposed we should diminish the wealth of the country. But any thing more contrary to reason he could not imagine. Though population was the source of all wealth, yet, to suppose that, by carrying it to an extreme, evil would not ensue, was what he had expected nobody would deny. It was true that the blood constituted the strength of the human body; but in excess it produced weakness and death. There was one simple test that might be applied to the state of the population. The House had heard that evening of persons for whom no employment whatever could be procured. Did it not follow that those persons were in a situation in which they could not add to the wealth of the country? This proposition was one that could not be examined for a moment without being assented to. Was it, then, not worth inquiring whether, instead of maintaining those persons at home, they might not be removed to another country, where they would be able, not only to repay the expense of their removal, but to change their condition to one of comparative comfort? He gladly availed himself, therefore, of the observation that had fallen from the Secretary of State for the Colonies, who had said that he would not object to any efficient plan to rescue the unemployed poor from their distress, and raise them to a happy and contented station. Could there be a question that, by making an outlet for the redundant population, a permanent relief might be afforded to Ireland? The evils of that country had arisen from the excessive subdivision of land; but no change in that respect could be effected, until the impediment of a large population was removed. He advocated these principles, not under the patronage, but in the teeth of his majesty's government. He came there only as Chairman of the committee; and he felt it his duty to bring forward this measure, coupled as it was with the conviction of his own mind, that it was founded on a sound principle, and that the House must, sooner or later, hold it entitled to practical consideration. He could see no advantage likely to result from confining their views to the state of England, without reference to the state of Ireland; because he was the last man who could consider it a part of our policy to resist the free migration of Irishmen to this country. The Union must set aside all idea of hermetically sealing our ports against the Irish. Look, then, at the condition of Ireland, as it was detailed in the evidence before the Emigration Committee. He had also in his possession letters which, if published, would astonish the House. The Irish landlords dared not carry the law into execution for dispeopling their estates by the Subletting act. They were restrained by a combined feeling of humanity and apprehension. They were indisposed to throw out of their present means of existence a parcel of wretches, houseless and naked, to take their chance in the market of the world. Emigration was not a scheme arising from the problems of political economy. The Greeks and Romans had recourse to it, and, at some period or other, every great nation under the sun. Nothing could be more preposterous than to suppose it a new project applicable to modern Europe and this country. The chief objection was, that any plan of emigration would be expensive, and that the finances of the country were not in a condition to bear the advances necessary for that purpose. He denied it would cost anything; for he considered it would cost nothing, if it involved the repayment of the advance. He begged the attention of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, to one simple point on which the whole question turned. He undertook to prove, that the maintenance of the labourers and their families, whose labour was not in demand in this country, was a direct tax on the community at large. He estimated that the men, women, and children, taken one with another, were not to be fed, clothed, and lodged, under 3l. per head per annum. One hundred thousand of these persons could be removed, it had been calculated, at an expense of 60,000l. a-year, laying aside any prospect of re-payment. At present these one hundred thousand persons, at 3l. per head, cost the country 300,000l. a-year. If for 60,000l. they could be removed to the colonies, there would clearly be a saving of 240,000l. annually out of the general revenue of the country. As it was his intention to bring forward a substantive motion for a pecuniary grant to be applied as a loan, to carry into effect the plans recommended by the Emigration Committee, with such variations as his now more mature judgment and the assistance of his friends had led him to make, he would not forestal what he then meant to say, by dwelling longer on that part of the subject. He would only call again the attention of his right hon. friend to this point: if there existed one hundred thousand persons, for whose labour there was no demand, and whose subsistence cost the country 300,000l. a-year, and they could be removed at an expense amounting only to 60,000l., would not their removal be attended with benefit to the country?—But it was objected, that the gap would be filled up again immediately. This he denied. As to Ireland, there were means of preventing this result, which had been suggested by the wisest and most gifted man that island had ever produced: he meant the destruction of the cottages when the parties were removed from them.—He supported this measure, not only with reference to the interests of property, but of the poor themselves, who were reduced to a state in which no population ought to be, especially that of the freest and most powerful country in the world. On all occasions he was met with the objection, that the expense of emigration would be excessive, and that the able-bodied men would be the persons first to emigrate. He knew there was a disposition, in some quarters, to depreciate political economists, yet he owned he was not disposed to slight the opinions of men of great natural as well as of acquired talent—men of much reflection, and who had directed their attention to an intricate and subtle subject. He would not be bound by their verdict; but their evidence was all to the effect, that, in a pecuniary point of view, the expense would be judiciously laid out. Looking at the question as a pecuniary one, they were of opinion, that it would be far more profitable to send out emigrants to cultivate fertile lands in the colonies, than to employ them in bringing into cultivation poor soils in England. That the latter plan was utterly unprofitable, was proved by the circumstance, that no capitalists were found to engage in such an enterprise. That emigration was attended with beneficial results was proved by experiment. Many who had emigrated paupers from this country had thriven, and left a positive inheritance to their children. The bringing into cultivation the bogs of Ireland was recommended by some persons—not by those, however, who were much interested in the amelioration of the condition of the poorer classes. Landholders who were unwilling to expend their own money in an undertaking of this kind, were willing enough to have the public money expended on its promotion. The right hon. gentleman proceeded to state the circumstances under which the bill originated. An application had been made by Dr. Spry, the rector of Mary-le-bonne, when he was connected with the Colonial-office, to know if it were permissible to send out twenty female paupers. It was proposed, on the part of the parish, if it were legal, to mortgage the poor-rate, in order to send them to New South Wales. When the application was made, it was suggested, that if this could be done, it would be very serviceable to many other parishes. The matter was submitted for the opinion of the law-officers of the Crown; it was subsequently ascertained that the mortgage could not be effected. These circumstances led to the bringing forward of the bill. The application from Mary-le-bonne was made on benevolent principles, as well as prudential ones; as, by mortgaging the poor-rates for a short time, they would be enabled to get rid of the maintenance of the paupers, which was perpetually entailed on them. He wished to observe, that it was not intended by this bill that it should be compulsory on parishes; on the contrary, he wished it merely to be a permissive measure. It was intended that it should be surrounded by checks and guards for that purpose. For instance, it would be requisite that four fifths of the rate-payers, and four fifths of the proprietors should be consentients to the bill. It was also intended, that not more than one tenth of the effective labourers of the parish should leave it in any one year. Moreover, he would not propose that the measure should be a perpetual one. Let the experiment be tried for a few years; and if it were not found to answer, it might be repealed. There were some parishes in which such a measure might be beneficially introduced, though it might be unsuited to others. The right hon. gentleman concluded by enforcing the expediency of encouraging emigration for the benefit of Ireland; where the population was rapidly increasing, and where there was a corresponding increase of distress, which could only be mitigated by the relief afforded by the advantageous cultivation of the fertile lands in our colonies. He would enter more fully into the general question when he should bring forward a proposition for the vote of public money for promoting emigration.

Mr. Warburton

bore testimony to the great industry and zeal of the right hon. gentleman, but could not concur in the reasoning upon which his motion was founded. The right hon. gentleman assumed that, if 1,200,000l. were appropriated, in any year, to assist the emigration of one hundred thousand paupers, the interest of that sum for the year would be but 60,000l.; whereas, if such paupers were to remain in this country chargeable upon the poor-rates, the cost of their maintenance would be not less than 300,000l.; and he calculated that the country would be, therefore, a gainer to the extent of 240,000l. But he altogether forgot the immeasureable proportion in which any such gain would be overbalanced by the enormous ratio in which population (especially where there was a vacuum, occasioned by the removal of a large body, to be filled up) was increasing, in all the old as well as new states of the world. In some of these it doubled itself in five-and-twenty years, which was at the rate of about three per cent per annum; in others the increase was as much as seventeen per cent. He did not mean to oppose the bringing in of the bill; but he suggested these as some of the difficulties with which the question was surrounded.

Mr. Alderman Waithman

said, that he had not merely doubts, but an entire conviction that the plan proposed by the right hon. gentlemen was impracticable and futile. The right hon. gentleman was entitled to praise for his exertions; but unless his plan was extensively acted upon, it would be unavailing. He would leave individuals to go out at their own free choice. They knew the advantages held out for emigration, and if they thought proper to avail themselves of them they might do so; but he would not consent to the appropriation of eight or ten millions to such a purpose; and without such a sum the project could not be carried into effect. As to the expectation of a return of money from the emigrants who were supplied by a mortgage of the poor-rates, with the means of emigration, he considered it a mere delusion. He knew little of Ireland personally; but it appeared to him very strange that the people of that country should be reduced to starvation when they made such large exports of corn, butter, beef, cheese, &c. Among other objections to the mortgage of the poor-laws was this—that few persons would be disposed to locate in a parish which was subjected, besides the ordinary poor-rates, to a mortgage of those rates, on account of the inhabitants who had preceded them in the occupation of the parish.

Mr. Secretary Huskisson

said, he was at a loss to know on what ground the hon. alderman expressed his surprise, that whilst Ireland exported the articles which he had mentioned, a portion of her population was reduced to great distress. It was not new, surely, in the science of political economy, that a portion of a community should have an excess of production which they might export or dispose of as they thought proper, and that another portion of that same community should be, notwithstanding that excess, or even a sufficiency, brought to a state of suffering from want of proper sustentation. The subject before the House was surrounded by a difficulty which attended another subject which had been discussed that evening; namely, that as the poor-laws were passed at different times, laws which were applicable at one period were not applicable at another. This was no less true with respect to emigration: it might be suited to some times and places, and be quite unsuited to others. For instance, some time ago, when distress prevailed amongst the manufacturers of Glasgow and other places in Scotland, and in the north of England, a proposition was made for their emigration. From the distress which prevailed in those districts when that proposition was made, he believed it would have been gladly received by those for whom that measure was intended. Now no distress prevailed in those manufacturing districts, and he believed this disposition to emigrate did not exist there now. The necessity of emigration, therefore, always bore a relation to times and places, and the purpose for which it was proposed to be carried into effect; in the same way that a redundant population bore a proportion to the means of giving them employment. He had been asked by his right hon. friend, whether he thought it would not be a beneficial use of the public money, to appropriate it to the emigration of a portion of our pauper population to the colonies? Before he should give a decisive answer to such a question, he should wish to be assured that the data on which his right hon. friend had grounded the assumption of benefit were clear and undoubted. If the plan of emigration were carried extensively into effect, would there not be reason to apprehend, that an extensive emigration to the colonies, by causing a glut of population there, and thereby creating a production beyond any demand the emigrants could obtain for it in an advantageous interchange with other countries, might lead to an equal degree of suffering with that from which it was sought to relieve them by sending them out? If the advantages pointed out by his right hon. friend could be obtained, and some disadvantage entailed at home, he would not say that money applied to the promotion of emigration would not be well laid out. But, as his right hon. friend intended to bring forward a proposition to that effect, he would postpone what he had to say on that subject until such a proposition came regularly before the House. He wished also to state, that he had felt the great force of an objection advanced by the hon. member for Bridport (Mr. Warburton); namely, the difficulty of observing an adequate proportion between the removal of a portion of the population, and the increase in the remaining population which supplied the vacuum that, by removal, had been created. The increase, it was well known, was more rapid after such a vacuum, than if it had not taken place. The right hon. gentleman proceeded to state, that in the United Netherlands, as well as in Russia, Germany, and all the northern countries of Europe, there was a very rapid increase of population: and all these countries, as well as England, were subject to the maintenance of a pauper population.—The present bill, he admitted, was entitled to the utmost consideration; and what he approved of highly in it was, that it was a permissive and not an obligatory measure; and that there were several guards and checks to prevent any very rapid or perilous trial of the experiment. He would promise to bestow the most attentive consideration upon it, and whether or not the plan of his right hon. friend were adopted, the utmost praise was due to his right hon. friend for the ability and perseverance with which, amid the pressure of official duties, he had devoted himself to the benevolent object of ameliorating the condition of the pauper population of this country.

Mr. Calcraft

was favourable to the principle of emigration, but thought it would be highly injurious to introduce the funding system into our parishes. A bad principle had already been established; namely, that of making up the wages of labourers out of the poor-rates. If to that evil, the mortgaging of the rates were to be added, the consequences would be of the most ruinous description.

Mr. Baring

said, he thought that much credit was due to the right hon. gentleman, for the perseverance with which he had applied himself to the removal of that which was certainly a great evil, namely, excessive population. To the principle of enabling the parishes to borrow money on the poor-rates, he decidedly objected. He believed that, by a small expense on the part of the government, a number of emigrants might be advantageously located in Canada. He had no doubt, that with some assistance, the gentlemen and farmers, in many parts of the country, would associate to send out the redundant poor; and that many persons might thus be sent out without the present bill, the principle of which, even if not dangerous, was, at least, alarming to the agricultural population. This, however, should be moderately done; for if pushed to a great extent, the machinery would become clogged, and would not work. The emigrating principle was not suitable to the manufacturing districts; it was suitable only to the agricultural parts of the country; to the men who could use the spade and the plough. But, although it might not be practicable to carry the plan to a great extent, to the extent to which it might be practicable to carry it, it would do good. For his own part, he anticipated great advantage from the discussion of the subject. He repeated, that he thought that, with very little assistance, a great number might be advantageously located in Canada. In various cases the United States had established swarms of colonists in the back Settlements of America, at an expense much greater than that which would attend the transfer of persons from this country to Canada.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, that the hon. gentleman had expressed so exactly the sentiments which he had always entertained on the subject of emigration, that it would be unnecessary for him to occupy the House for many minutes. He had always thought that emigration was an important consideration to a country like this, which had certainly a superabundant population, and at the same time possessed colonies of large extent and fertile soil. To such a country, so situated, good sense and prudence pointed out that encouragement ought to be given to voluntary emigration. It appeared by the evidence that a pauper, to whom 60l. was advanced, would, in all probability, be enabled at a certain period to repay it; but if men possessed of capital would emigrate voluntarily, he confessed he should prefer such a state of society in the colonies to one composed entirely of paupers. He could wish that the proposition of his right hon. friend were extended to the whole country. Why should it be confined to the county of Sussex? It was not coercive, but voluntary: let all, then, have the advantage of it. He was only afraid that the interest of the parish and that of government would be different. Government would be anxious that honest and industrious men should emigrate; but he feared that persons whose characters and habits were the reverse would be those whom the parish would wish to get rid of. For the sake of the experiment, industrious men ought to be sent out; and if some check were not kept on the parish, it appeared to him, that the object of his right hon. friend would not be answered. As to the parish ever being repaid, he was afraid there would be no chance of that; and he believed that his right hon. friend had held out no such hope. He should like to see men possessed, say of 5,000l. procure land in the colonies, and tempt others to go out as their labourers. He did not see that it was an objection to emigration, that the vacuum would soon be filled up. If he enlarged the sphere of civilization—established a body of industrious labourers abroad, while he removed unproductive labourers from home, and opened new markets to the manufacture of the mother country—then, he must submit, he had done good by emigration, even though the vacuum should be speedily filled up. Although he did not hope that any outlet could be made by which the population could be materially lessened at home, yet he did hope and believe, that in this way a voluntary and properly conducted emigration would be productive of benefit to the country. If he did not agree with his right hon. friend in all the details of his plan, he could not forget, that it was to his right hon. friend that the country was indebted for pointing out the benefits which would result from a well-conducted emigration.

Mr. Hume

said, he had always been an advocate for voluntary emigration, but objected to the advance of money by the government for the encouragement of it. If there was any one thing which more than another would render emigration objectionable, it was a mortgage like that now proposed. He considered this ten times worse than an advance of public, money. They had already seen the mischiefs which resulted from anticipating our resources: if this measure were adopted, it would place the whole of the landed proprietors in the same condition as the country was placed from the same cause. The measure was not voluntary but coercive; seeing that four fifths bound the rest. If emigration were to be coercive, he objected to it; and if not, they did not want any act upon the subject.

Leave was given to bring in the bill.