HC Deb 17 April 1828 vol 18 cc1521-47
Mr. Slaney

rose to bring forward the motion, of which he had given notice, respecting the necessity of an inquiry into the state of the Poor-laws; and, in doing so, he could not avoid remarking on the very limited attendance of members on the occasion—a circumstance which he attributed, not so much to their want of interest for the subject in general, as to the claims of more important avocations on their time. He, however, was prepared on his side to perform the duty which he had assigned to himself. He felt it would be impossible for him to bring before the House the subject of his motion in a manner capable of exciting a due degree of attention, without trespassing on their time to an extent which otherwise he should be sorry to occupy. He was not discouraged by the paucity of attendants on this occasion, because he knew that there were many subjects brought before the House, which, however important, were not necessarily of a nature to command immediate attention. However, he trusted that the House would give its indulgence to one who was not much in the habit of addressing them, and who had spared no pains to obtain the very best information.

Without further preamble, then, he should proceed to the question itself. The importance of this subject no man could doubt. Its interest was two-fold. As regarded the rich, the immense increase of the poor-rates now accumulated to an alarming degree of magnitude; and threatened, if not arrested in their progress, to overwhelm the agricultural interest in ruin. But the consequences of the Poor-laws were, in another point of view, still more alarming, and were productive of consequences more deplorable in the eyes of every man who wished well to his fellow-subjects; they had had the effect of depressing those whose only possession was their labour, of degrading the most numerous class of the community, of undermining the comforts of a body of men, who were formerly justly proud of their independence—the peasantry of the country. To show the fallacy on which a part of the present system of Poor-laws was founded, with the further view of inducing a consideration of those laws, was the object with which he ventured to address the House. This peculiar time was auspicious for such a purpose; for parliament had now under its consideration a measure which had for its object to prevent the fluctuations that were formerly constantly taking place in the price of grain. If it were shown that, among the causes of the depression of the poor, the fluctuation in the price of grain held a leading place, then the time for doing away that fluctuation was the opportune moment for considering the state of the poor, and the abuses of the laws which affected them.

The Poor-laws divided themselves into three distinct parts. First, the rating—a branch of the subject so complex and so full of difficulties, as to deter him from any attempt at an investigation of its merits. The second division related to the law of settlement, on which an enlightened committee, and one from whose labours he anticipated the most valuable results, was now sitting. With that part of the question he did not mean at present to meddle. The third division embraced the law of relief, and to that division alone he meant to confine himself. With respect to that class of persons whom the early law enumerated as being the proper objects of relief; namely, the lame, the impotent, the old, and blind, he wished distinctly to be understood as having no intention to interfere with the usual relief afforded to them. He was sure that the feelings not only of the members of that House, but of every man in the country, would sanction that forbearance, and would second him in rather attempting to augment the measure of relief to such objects, by withdrawing that portion which was now absorbed by persons, who, in his estimation, had not so good a title to gratuitous support. The second class of persons to whom relief was afforded, and that whose case he now meant to consider, was the class of persons who were able to work. It must be obvious to any one, that this class comprehended two principal divisions; the first of which consisted of the artizans, manufacturers, mechanics, and their families. He begged to say that no one, in or put of that House, was more disposed to sympathise in the privations, when they did occur, under which that description of persons laboured—no one could be more ready than he was to mitigate their sufferings; and, at all events, if he had it in contemplation to stop the means of relief on the one side, it was only in the certainty of being able, on the other, by measures of gradual amelioration, to do away with the necessity of such persons seeking relief at all. The other class to whom he alluded, consisted of the agricultural labourers, and others, who were able to work. With respect to the manufacturing poor, to whose case he had already alluded, the House would permit him to say, that no inquiry could be of more importance than one whose object was to ascertain with correctness the causes of the fluctuations to which the means of subsistence of that class were subject. What could be more dreadful than to see those industrious persons one month enjoying comfort, and the next, by some sudden revolution in commercial affairs, by some vicissitude over which they could have no control, plunged into destitution, without any prospect of support? He should then say, that until some sure mode was provided whereby the recurrence of these fluctuations—which it was ascertained returned about every seven years—should be guarded against, it would be a most unwise, most imprudent and unsafe, as well as cruel measure, to take from them that source of relief on which alone they at present rested. He trusted that the House would lend itself heartily to this great object, and sanction an inquiry into the best mode, not of avoiding those fluctuations—for that was impossible—but of procuring temporary employment for those who were liable to be deprived of it. For the present he would confine himself to the employment of another class of persons—the agricultural labourers; who stood in very different circumstances from those of the manufacturing community with respect to the demand for their services, and the fluctuations to which that demand was liable. The tendencies of the people themselves to provide a security against the vicissitudes to which they were liable might suggest to the legislature, that the difficulty of providing an effectual security was not so great as they might at first imagine. This was one of those cases in which benevolence might go hand-in-hand with wisdom in determining the means of giving constant employment to the labouring class. The provident dispositions of the people began to manifest themselves; and, as a proof of the extent to which the influence of prudential considerations had reached amongst them, he would merely state, that the number of persons enrolled in those excellent institutions called Benefit Societies, as appeared by the last return, amounted to nine hundred and twenty-five thousand. And looking to the returns of the amount of deposits in Savings' banks, which had been comparatively but a short time in play, he found that the aggregate amount of deposits in the United Kingdom amounted to the enormous sum of fifteen millions sterling. It was usually calculated that 15l. was on the average, the deposit of each person; and that being the case, it appeared that the number of depositors was no less than one million. This fact showed the willingness of the people to avail themselves of any means within their power of providing against the vicissitudes to which their condition was liable.

He now returned to the consideration of the case of the able-bodied labourers. There were some general observations applicable to the Poor-laws, which he was sure would excite general interest. There was, no doubt, a class of the public, to whom the prospect of being exempted from part of the burthen of poor-rates, independently of any other considerations, would be a source of pleasing anticipation; and since the realization of that prospect was one of the objects, though not the chief, which he had in view, he hoped to receive the support of the House. He begged, first of all, to call the attention of the House to the amount of the poor-rates at different periods in round numbers. For the three years 1748, 1749, and 1750, the poor-rates averaged 700,000l. a-year. In 1783, 1784, and 1785, they were something under two millions sterling. In 1803 they increased to upwards of four millions. In 1815 they amounted to upwards of six millions sterling for each year; in 1818 to 6,800,000l.; and in 1821 to upwards of seven millions sterling, being the greatest amount to which they had ever attained. In 1824, the amount was near six millions. In 1825, it was 5,780,000l.; in 1826, 5,900,000l.; and in 1827, it had increased from a sum less than six millions to 6,440,000l., being an increase on the general amount of poor-rates in the kingdom of nine per cent. There was, however, one thing consoling in the accounts; namely, that the abuses prevailed chiefly in the southern parts. He could mark with a line the places where wages were good, and poor-rates low; and other places where the wages were low, and the poor-rates high. He found, however, that a vast increase in the rates took place last year in the manufacturing districts, where the increase could not be attributed to the abuse of the Poor-laws. In looking at the state of those laws, he found that the vast increase of the rates last year, being an increase of nine per cent on the amount of the former year, did not arise from the abuses of the Poor-laws. He wished to ask a question, which appeared to him of some difficulty, and which might, perhaps, be answered by some member from that part of the country—how came it to pass, that in Westmoreland, where confessedly the best system of Poor-laws was established, the poor-rates increased 19 per cent above the last year? In Lancashire they increased 47 per cent; in the West Riding of Yorkshire 34 per cent; in the county of Chester 24 per cenr. This arose from fluctuations in the demand for manufacturing labour, which, though deeply to be lamented, did not spring from any lasting source of depression, but was almost already passed away.

Some person might say, that the amount of the poor-rates for the last year exhibited a diminution, as compared with their amount in 1821. But the hon. member said, that the price of corn was the great barometer of the price of labour, and that, of course, the state of the poor would be always materially influenced by the price of corn; and after referring to the amount of the latter at different periods, he contended that, in the whole there was a gradual, constant increase of the cost of maintaining the poor. And what rendered this increase the more remarkable was, that it took place notwithstanding the operation of the Select Vestry act—an act pregnant with wisdom. He asked, must not the tendency of these rates to increase be very strong indeed, when they were found to augment, in spite of the existence of two thousand, eight hundred and sixty-eight Select Vestries throughout the kingdom, and no less than three thousand special overseers? If, then, the poor-rates advanced, even under such checks as he had described, was there not good ground furnished, in that fact, to justify him in calling on the House to look into the principle of those laws? He begged to refer the House to a return worthy of particular recommendation, on account of the small-ness of its dimensions, but which at the same time contained a great many facts, placed in a very clear manner, with reference to this subject. The work he alluded to was the "Appendix to the Poor Rates' Abstract," which was reprinted in November, 1826. He begged to read a few of the curious items which were to be found in this account. Upon a comparison made of the rates of different years, from 1806, it appeared that the cost of maintaining the poor doubled every twenty years, whilst the cost of law and litigation doubled every twelve years. According to the returns of rates made in March, 1826, it appeared that the land contributed five sevenths of the whole amount, while the manufacturing interest paid only a proportion of one twenty-fourth. He begged to be understood as not stating these facts with the view of making any invidious comparisons, or drawing any inferences from them; they were simple facts stated in the document to which he had referred, and as such he stated them.

He had now to address himself to a part of the subject to which it was impossible to look without sincere feelings of commiseration and regret: no man could contemplate it without fear, and almost horror, considering the mass of wretchedness it displayed. The House would recollect that, in pursuance of the provisions of the 43rd of George the 3rd, returns were made of the number of paupers who were relieved by the poor-rates, consisting of persons who were totally dependent on poor-rates, with their children, and those who were only partially dependent on that fund. It appeared that the number of persons of all these descriptions amounted in 1801 to one million, and forty thousand persons; being one in nine according to the population returns of that year. In the return for 1811 he found that the children of those dependent on the poor-rates had been omitted; but having added those persons in a proportion equal to that which existed in the returns for other years, he found that the number of persons subsisting on poor-rates, either partially or wholly, amounted to one million, three hundred and forty thousand, being an increase to one in eight on the population of that year. In 1821, the number increased to one million, five hundred thousand, supposing them to augment only in the same ratio with the population; and every circumstance showed this was the case. In 1826 the number of persons receiving, or dependent on, parochial rates, had swelled to one million, seven hundred thousand; and in 1827, adding that proportion which was equivalent to the increase of the rates in that year, viz. nine per cent, the number would be one million, eight hundred and fifty thousand persons.

He ventured to implore the House to pause a moment to consider the effect upon the prosperity of the country, as such an immense body of persons, amounting in the latter period to near one seventh of the community, each discontented with his condition, restless and anxious for change, with every temptation to crime which want could give. It was, indeed, a melancholy reflection that in this country, so justly celebrated for the wisdom of its institutions, and the general happiness of the people, such an extensive exception should appear among those classes whom, above all others, that House was bound to protect and assist. He ventured to refer members to the contrast afforded by Scotland in this respect, as displayed in the 3rd Report on the Poor-laws, of the 26th of May, 1818. He called the attention of the House to that country, because, if he were to select any country in which the laws were best administered, it would be that. The whole kingdom was only assessed at 43,000l., which was less, by 6,000l., than the assessment in the county of Cumberland during that year, 1818, and one seventh the amount of the assessment of the single county of Sussex; and notwithstanding that, by avoiding the abuses which had made their way in some districts, and devoting the rate to legitimate purposes, the peasantry of Scotland, who had so little done for them, were then in a happier and more independent state, than the peasantry of England, who had so much done for them. Another cause of difference between the two countries—and which it was impossible entirely to pass over—was the superiority of the Scottish population over the English in point of education; but he trusted that difference was diminishing. Ignorant persons had sometimes attributed the increase in the rates to the manufacturers; but their prejudices were founded in mistake, for, by the returns made in 1825, it appeared that, in the county of Lancaster, the poor-rate was only 4s. a head; in the West Riding of Yorkshire, only 6s. a head; whereas in Suffolk it was 18s. a head; and in Sussex 1l., being five times the amount of the rate in Lancashire.

Having made this statement (regretting at the same time that he had been obliged to go into these dry details), he would now come to the causes of the abuses which had been spoken of, and of the distresses of the agricultural labourers in this country. He thought the fluctuation of the currency had something to do with it, but that was now set at rest; but there was another, which gentlemen did not always advert to; he meant the fluctuation in the price of corn. What he was about to state would show, to any gentleman who thought we ought to return to those enormous high prices which existed in former times, that his majesty's government was doing right when they brought forward a measure calculated to prevent such fluctuations, and by that means consolidate the happiness and comfort of all classes, but more especially of the poor. He had consulted the returns of an honourable and learned friend of his, now in the East Indies (sir Edward West), in his able work on the "Wages of Labour and the Price of Corn," in order to show the effect it had on the prices of labour. From 1768 to 1793, the beginning of the Revolutionary war, the price varied from 40s. to 60s. per quarter. It was only twice below 40s., and never exceeded 60s.; on an average it was about 52s. So that there was then no great fluctuation in the price of the principal article in the purchase of which the wages of labour were expended. In 1795 the price amounted to 62s.; in 1796 to 82s., being higher than it had ever been before. In 1798 and 1799 it fell to 55s.; in 1800 it rose to 110s. In 1801, it was 150s. a quarter, being nearly treble the average of the former twenty-five years. In 1802 it decreased all at once to 72s. less than half the preceding-year. In 1804 it was 60s.; in 1805, 6, and 7, it rose to 86s. In 1808 it was 72s.; in 1809 it rose to 98s; in 1816 to 116s.; in 1811, 104s.; in 1812 and 1813, 126s.; in 1814, 96s.; in 1815 82s.; in 1816, 71s.; in 1817, 110s. It then fell, in four years, to 63s., by steps of 10s. each, and since then it had been much more steady.

He paused a moment to ask gentlemen to reflect on the consequences of this fluctuation to the poorer classes. They had no means of shielding themselves. They had a certain amount of wages, and then suddenly, without the least warning, the bread was doubled in price. Was it possible for any man to say what his expenditure would be when the price was liable to such fluctuations? The misery caused by this fluctuation was greater than any gentleman could imagine. These were sad balances against the high rents. Some gentlemen might think it was some consolation to have got high rents; but when they found that these high prices had saddled their own estates with a burthen which threatened to take from them all rent, they would see it was far from their interest to have any system continued, under which such fluctuations must continually take place. The Committee on Labourers' Wages, in 1824, expressed themselves in their Report in, these words:—" That though the system of paying part of the wages of labour out of the poor-rates began early in some districts, it had originally been introduced on the great fluctuation in the price of provisions during the last thirty years." Another cause of the depression of the labouring classes, to which he could not advert without a melancholy feeling, was the state of Ireland. At the present moment England was deluged with poor Irish labourers, taking the bread out of the mouths of the natives, by working at a lower rate of wages in their own market. It was proved in evidence before the Emigration Committee, that the poor Irish labourer, after coming to England and underselling the native, returned to his own country and paid his rent with the savings from those wages which were indirectly taken out of the poor-rates. He paid his rent by the bread taken from the English labourer. Scotland, so long justly celebrated for the independence of her industrious people, was also deluged with poor Irish, underselling in their own country the labour of the natives, and forcing them through hard necessity to have recourse to that parish support which their souls abhorred. It was not his intention now to advert farther to the state of Ireland, but the statesman and the philanthropist were alike deeply interested in endeavouring to investigate and gradually remove the causes which led to a state of things so truly deplorable.

He would now point out some of the evils in the construction of the Poor-law act. The law of relief rested on a single statute, the 43rd of Elizabeth. Passing over that part of it which related to the old, lame, impotent, and blind, he came to the other part of the statute. It stated, "the overseers shall take order for setting to work all such persons, married or unmarried, having no means to maintain them, and using no ordinary and daily trade of life to get their living by." Daily labourers, therefore, came neither within the description or meaning of the act. The persons alluded to were the sturdy vagrants mentioned as "strong beggars, persons whole and mighty in body," in old statutes. As to the employment of daily labourers, he would refer gentlemen to the first Report of the Committee on Poor-laws in 1817, and to the Report in 1819, page 7 and 8. The Committee, in that most able and excellent report, the language of which was as clear as its views were luminous and extended, summed up against the right. Upon the subject of the Poor-laws, there were fifteen hundred solemnly decided cases, and there were four thousand justices of the peace, general expounders of the law, most of them unconnected with law professionally. It was not to be wondered at that misconstruction, doubts, and cross-readings, should have arisen in a system like this. As to the employment of able-bodied poor, he had shown the act was not intended to apply to the great body of agricultural labourers, but to those who had no ordinary and daily trade of life; but it had been carried even beyond this wide construction. The abuses in that part of the law extended through a district marked by a line drawn from the south part of Gloucestershire to Stamford, in Lincolnshire; and through every county south of that the abuses prevailed more or less. The four counties of Cornwall, Devon, Gloucester; and Somerset, were less tainted than the others; but all were tainted in a Way quite extraordinary, and they would reap their reward. The first abuse was in making up the wages out of the poor-rates. The second was in an allowance for each child. This induced a man, after he had received an allowance for one child, to apply again for an additional allowance for twins; and the third, the payment of cottage-rents. For confirmation he would venture to refer to the hon. members for Dorsetshire, Sussex, and Hertfordshire. The Report of 1817 stated this—"A practice has prevailed in many counties of England, to defray the wages of labour out of the poor-rates, according to a uniform scale of relief." This reminded him of the hon. member for Wiltshire. In Wiltshire they had a uniform bread-scale, by which they gave to every man according to his family, or the price of bread. He thought that a more enormous injustice was never done to poor as well as rich, than the introduction of such a scheme. It tended to defeat the inequality between the industrious and idle man, and was detrimental alike to the interests of all classes. The next Report was that on Labourers' Wages in 1824. At the head of that committee sat the noble lord, who had done the country inestimable service in many ways. After having looked into the subject with all care, they reprobated the abuses alluded to, particularly the employment of roundsmen. Perhaps some gentlemen might not know the meaning of the term roundsmen. When any man came to the parish for employment, and the parish did not find him employment, as they ought to do under the wide construction of the act, they sent the man round to different farmers, saying, "You must employ him so much, and you so much, paying small wages, and the parish will make up the rest." The evil of this practice augmented itself, and the steady and hard-working labourer was converted into an inefficient pensioner. Upon this subject he would refer gentlemen to the Report of the Emigration Committee in 1826 and 1827. The gentleman who presided over that committee deserved every praise. He would refer to the evidence of the hon. member for the county of Sussex, and other members, to show the degraded state of the peasantry in some districts, owing to these abuses. He would venture to state the returns for which he had moved last year, which had not been laid before the House, but of which he had obtained a partial account from the Home Office. One motion was for the number of persons relieved in all parishes of Suffolk, Essex, Hertford, and two or three others; and also for the number of able-bodied men relieved. In Suffolk, taking twenty parishes, the total relieved was 2,490. Of these, 607 were able-bodied men, or about one fourth. In Essex, the whole number amounted to 3,030; able-bodied men 979, or near one third. In Hertford, the total number was 2,437, the able-bodied men 877. He could mention abuses after abuses of this kind. In Winburn it was usual to allow a loaf for every person, and so much for every child. The same thing prevailed in almost all the southern counties. This allowance, of so much for each child, this bounty on marriage took away all dread of entering into the married State, and multiplied labourers beyond the demand of the country. He had received a letter from a respectable clergyman in Northamptonshire, stating one of the consequences from these abuses, which fell under his own knowledge, and which was unfortunately no rare instance. Six pauper orphans had been brought up by the parish, with the prospect of getting them out into regular employment. When the eldest arrived at eighteen, the worst thing happened to him that could happen to a pauper youth; he fell in love with a woman in a neighbouring parish; the lad was not worth a penny, but his love was strong, and marry he would; so he brushed the coat which the parish had given him, put the parish hat gaily on one side, and throwing down disdainfully the parish spade, marched off to seek the lady of his choice, singing at the top of his voice that song which echoes in the summer time through all the green lanes and all the dusty roads in the southern counties where these abuses prevail, and which begins with that celebrated verse, Hang sorrow, cast away care, The parish is bound to maintain us. The parish officers, however, were of a different mind. As the father of the young man was dead, the parish officer considered that he stood in loco parentis, and that, as guardian of the young man, he was entitled to forbid the banns. Some doubt arising, however, a case was laid before a learned civilian, who gave it as his opinion, that the parish officer had no right to forbid the banns. The rev. clergyman added, at the end of his letter, that all the children were boys, and they would, most probably, follow the example thus set them, and marry at the age of eighteen, knowing that the parish would have to bear the expenses of the lying-in, as well as to make provision for the children. According to the statement of Mr. Hodges, the chairman of the West Kent sessions, the effect of this system upon the condition and number of labourers was apparent. In a parish called Smarsden there were two hundred and ninety-seven labourers, of whom sixty were supernumerary; in that of Grenville there were one hundred, twenty-five of whom were dependent on the poor-rates. In another parish, out of one hundred and sixty labourers, forty-five were supernumeraries. In another there were ninety-six, fifteen of whom were similarly circumstanced; and, notwithstanding this, there were sixty new cottages built in the last-mentioned parish within twenty years; and he did not see what was to prevent such building of cottages, when it was known that the parish would take them and pay rent for them. It appeared that, in 1823, in the division of Cray, in Lower Kent, there were sixteen parishes, containing a population of twenty-one thousand persons, eight thousand two hundred of whom were paupers. With regard to the whole country, one in every seven inhabitants was the melancholy proportion of persons receiving aid; but here the case was still worse, for there was one pauper almost in every two; besides six hundred and eighty-two who had no employment; and it was said by the gentleman whom he had quoted, that the same, description was applicable to all Kent, and to a district in Suffolk. He added that, nevertheless, many cottages were built on the speculation of the parish rates for payment of the rent. The hon. member for Sussex had confirmed a portion of this statement. He would venture to say that, through the last abuse to which he had referred—the paying the cottage rents—a great proportion of pauperism was created. The first difficulty presenting itself to the mind of a young man who contemplated marriage was, how to get a house; and if the parish gave him one, the only obstacle to his entering into this engagement, when he had no means of supporting a family, was removed. This was in the very teeth of the law, and in direct opposition to the interests both of the employer and the labourer. He had enumerated the sixteen counties in which the three great abuses principally prevailed, but they were not confined to those counties. Some of them (especially the baneful custom of paying rents), had made their way into Worcestershire, Nottinghamshire, and other counties beyond the line described, and were fast spreading into the northern parts of this island, which had been heretofore untainted, and in which, owing to their being untainted, the state of the peasantry was one of happiness, independence, and comfort, as contrasted with the other districts. He held in his hand an abstract which showed the effects of the abuses of the Poor-laws in the southern counties. The return of wages paid in the year 1824 to unmarried men, in the sixteen counties which he had mentioned, stated the lowest daily wages as no more than six-pence. He would now take twenty of the northern and Welch counties—not manufacturing counties, including, however, Lancashire—and in these the lowest wages were one shilling per day. Thus, where the abuses existed, the wages were lower; while in those counties in which a just discrimination was observed, and the laws were more properly administered, labourers received a better remuneration. It was admitted, that these abuses prevailed in particular counties. He should now refer to some of the consequences. It appeared that in the counties of Gloucester, Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall, the abuses prevailed least; but in each they were prevalent more or less. In the seventeen counties in which they chiefly prevailed, it appeared by the returns to parliament, that the poor-rates amounted to fifteen shillings a head on the whole population; while in the twenty contiguous counties, where it appeared from evidence that a better system was adopted, they were only six shillings a head; being only a proportion of two-fifths; and, at the same time, the poor were better off where the rates were low, and the labouring classes were not degraded by the necessity of resorting to them for a support, but were encouraged in their virtuous efforts for independence.

He now came to a point which would be considered of importance. In the seventeen counties where the abuses prevailed, the rate amounted to four shillings in the pound on the rack rent. The returns ought, in all cases, to be made upon the rack rent throughout the kingdom. This would enable men to understand the subject in its true light, without being perplexed with accounts so complicated, that their import could not be divined even by a magician. Looking into the returns relative to the Property-tax, he found, that in the seventeen counties to which he had alluded, the rate amounted to four shillings on the rack rent; while, in the twenty counties where the labourers were better paid, they were no more than two and sixpence. He would, therefore, offer to those who lived in the southern counties a bonus of nearly what they paid to the Property-tax to enter upon a better system, to give independence and encouragement to a class which was pulled down and depressed by the mal-administration of these laws. If, therefore, they could benefit the rich, and at the same time ameliorate the condition of the poor, ought they not to enter upon the task—he would not say with haste or impetuosity, but with earnestness and zeal? He had shown that an enormous direct advantage would flow from the adoption of a better system; but it would also be productive of very great indirect benefit. If the expenses occasioned by crime and disease, including the cost of maintaining gaols, hospitals, &c., were estimated, they would be found to amount to at least one-half of the poor-rates; for a great proportion of the prosecutions arose from the depressed state of the poor under the present system. It was, indeed, unnecessary to prove that misery, want, and hunger were the fertile sources of despair, disease, and crime; but he held in his hand returns which put the matter out of doubt, and shewed that the increase of criminals was in due proportion to the augmentation of paupers. In 1806, the number of criminals committed was four thousand three hundred; in 1816, nine thousand; in 1826, sixteen thousand; and according to the right hon. Secretary for the Home Department, in 1827, nearly eighteen thousand; notwithstanding food was cheaper than formerly. If, then, the poor-rates amounted to six millions, the whole cost attending the system would be nine millions. If the poor-rates increased, as they did five per cent every year, by the unnatural depression of the poor, and by a state of things which might be removed, the support of the poor would cost the country in each year 450,000l. more than it had done in the preceding year. In the last year the increased cost of poverty on the country was 810,000l., every tittle of which might have been saved with advantage, not only to the rich, but also to the poor. He was happy to know that most gentlemen admitted the existence of the evils. Indeed, the fact could not be disputed. But it was asked, how were they to be remedied? He looked to the principle. When the poor were not paid, or not sufficiently paid, they naturally became vicious, dissolute, and careless. The great point was to enable them to do for themselves, and to obtain good wages. Now, all the returns showed that where wages were good, the poor rates were low, and where the average of wages was small, the rates were proportionably high. The poor ought to have good wages, and not to be kept down by an unnatural cause, like the present system of the Poor-laws. If, then, it was agreed that the poor must have good wages, he came to the principle by which they should be regulated. The principle was short, but important. The wages of the poor must be regulated in the same manner as every thing else, by the proportion of the demand to the supply. He would not trouble the House with references to the different writers who had maintained this proposition, but it would not be supposed that the committees of that House, who had sat for the investigation of the subject, were likely to have indulged in idle theories, or foolish speculations, and he could not put the matter in a clearer point of view than in their own words. The first report agreed to by a committee of forty of the most intelligent gentlemen of that House, laid it down that "what number could be employed in labour must depend alone upon the funds which were to maintain them, and as the demand for labour must depend upon the wealth of the country, so the rate of wages must be according to the proportion of the demand to the supply. And in proportion to the degree of nicety with which the demand and supply was adjusted, were the happiness and independence of the labouring people." Then came the question, how was this proportion to be maintained? He answered, simply, by letting it alone—by not attempting to legislate better than Providence. The general law which would check the growth of the supply beyond the demand, was prevented by the operation of the present laws, or rather by the abuse of the law, for he did not quarrel with the 43rd of Elizabeth. He thought it an excellent legislative measure, but it had been perverted to ends as contrary to wisdom and justice as he was sure they were at variance with the spirit of the framer. In the report of June 1819, another committee said, "that the demand and the supply had such a tendency in the natural course of things to balance each other, that any excess in either arising from temporary causes, if met by temporary expedients, would, if not defeated by unnatural circumstances, in no longtime correct itself." The report on labourers' wages in 1824, said, "that by the abuses of the Poor-laws a surplus population was encouraged. Those who had but a small pittance knew that it would be augmented in proportion to the number of their children; and hence the supply of labour was by no means regulated by the demand. But what was by far the worst consequence of the system was the degradation which it entailed upon the labouring classes." The third Emigration Report, which was drawn up with peculiar ability, said that "the first and main principle was, that labour, which was the commodity of the poor man, took its value from the circum- stances incidental to all other commodities, and the supply must be regulated by the demand."

Thus, all the committees had come to the same conclusion. It was seen, then, that the rate of wages must be regulated by the demand and the supply. Now, with respect to the demand, the sum of it must depend upon the capital of the country; and if it depended upon the capital of the country, it depended upon that which could not be increased by law. If it was impossible to increase capital by acts of parliament, what was to be said of the laws which supposed it to be possible? The effect of the Poor-laws was, when they gave employment to one labourer to throw another out of employment, and they had this additional disadvantage, that while the industrious labourer added to the capital of the country, the pauper diminished it. These laws, by holding out a bonus, kept the supply above the demand and depressed the poor. It was necessary, therefore, for the legislature to retrace its steps, and to return to a natural state of things. They should not increase the supply by a bonus. He knew it would be both absurd and unwise to attempt to limit the amount of population, but it was a different thing to remove the bonus for its increase. And this was the object of the measure he had in view. An outcry had been raised in reference to the proposition which he introduced last year, as if he wished to push the measure through the House. He had no intention of passing that bill: his only object was to use it as a means of creating a discussion on the subject. He knew that its provisions were, in many points, impracticable. But he still adhered to the principle upon which the former measure was founded. His object was two-fold; first, to prevent the recurrence of the evil; and secondly, to give assistance to the sufferers in the transition from one state of things to another. This was to be effected by returning gradually to the system of the forty-third of Elizabeth. The Reports of all the committees to which he had referred, recommended the prevention of the spread of the evil, and a gradual introduction of a new system. Able-bodied labourers were generally divided into two classes, the first class consisted of new applicants, and the second of persons who were dependent. He should propose that the overseers be empowered. to employ unmarried labourers, but under particular circumstances only. But then it would be said, that it would be a very hard case if young men, who were able and willing to work, could not get employment. What he should propose was, that such young men should have a right to get employment, on paying a certain small sum, to be previously deposited in a savings' bank. Suppose the applicant paid in a sum of four shillings, then he was to be entitled to an extra week's work from the parish officers. In the event of his becoming independent of the parish, he might take up the sum so deposited, or devise it by will. This was a plain and simple plan, nor was it like Smollett's machine to cut cabbages for the purpose of saving a dish of sprouts. With the view of facilitating the mode of giving employment, he should suggest that a power to contract for work should be given to the parish officers. Suppose, for instance, that a gentleman wanted work done, for which he was willing to pay 100l., the parish officers might say, sir, we are willing to contract with you to do it for 50l., on condition of your employing the parish labourers. By this plan, though the labourers would be paid out of the poor-rates, the same evil would not arise as under the present system, for there would be no competition to the prejudice of other individuals; as the work would not be of the ordinary description; but such only as without such a temptation would not have been undertaken. He should next propose, in the case of married labourers, that where the number of children exceeded four or five, the present individuals should receive a little assistance proportioned to such excess, but that no fresh applicants should be entitled to it. And finally, that, as regarded all classes of able-bodied labourers, no parish assistance should be given them, except in the form of employment. From the difficulty of effectually rating the occupiers of small tenements, that species of property (as is stated in the Special Vestry act) enjoys a practical exemption from those rates to which all other property is liable, and persons are induced thereby to lay out their money in such tenements speculating on the high rates such exemption may ensure them: this inequality ought to be removed, by rendering the owners of such tenements liable for rates instead of the poor occupiers. For his own part, he had not the vanity to imagine that he could devise a remedy for so great an evil as the present system had given rise to; all he wished was, that the subject should be referred to a committee of gentlemen who were conversant with it, and capable of framing a measure accordingly. He should therefore move for leave to bring in a bill "to declare and amend the law relative to the employment of able-bodied labourers, and the better rating of tenements under a certain value."

Mr. N. Calvert

seconded the motion, and said, that he concurred with the principle of the bill, but objected to part of its proposed machinery.

Mr. Portman

entered into a variety of details respecting the operation of the Poor-laws, and their effects in producing, on the part of the farmers, a particular selection of labourers. He then adverted to the mode of their administration in the country with which he was more immediately connected, and expressed his conviction, that the remedy proposed would, upon trial, by no means prove adequate. He should not oppose the hon. member's proposition, although he did not think that any legislative enactment would have the effect he proposed.

Mr. Cripps

said, that although he admitted the hon. mover had displayed considerable information in his address to the House, and was entitled to their thanks for the pains he had taken in investigating this difficult, subject, he entertained considerable apprehensions that no practical benefit would result from the bill proposed. If no regard were to be had, in the estimate of the claim of the poor, to the number of the individuals in their respective families, and the quantity of labour to be shared amongst those who were in want of employment, of what avail was any bill for that purpose? The remedy, in his mind, consisted in judicious arrangements by gentlemen in the country themselves, and could only be effected by applying their attention to the appropriation of the funds for the relief of the poor in their several parishes. It was in vain to attempt to draw the line as to the artificial distinction of able-bodied and other paupers. If the means of subsistence were withheld from the former during periods of scarcity, they would within a short time become of the latter class, and be strictly entitled to parochial relief. Even charitable donations or foundations were of no avail in stopping the growth of pauperism in this country, for he would venture to affirm, that in those parishes where the charities were the largest, the poor-rates were, in the same proportion, high. Nor was it surprising: for as soon as the indigent in other parishes heard that the poor in this place received allowances on the score of rent or for firing, out of such and such a charitable fund, they never rested until they obtained a settlement in a parish which enjoyed so many advantages over their own. It was the same with manufactories, although, in the first instance, they lowered the poor-rates, the moment a check in business took place those rates rose alarmingly. For himself, he confessed, that although he wished the hon. member success in his undertaking, he feared little would be effected by this bill, or by that in the contemplation of an other hon. member for altering the settlement; except that probably the latter might tend to discourage litigation, and so effect a trifling reduction in the poor-rates.

Mr. Burrell

doubted whether the proposed measure would prove of utility. There was one proposal, however, of the hon. member, which, he thought he would find it impossible to carry into effect. He alluded to that by which unmarried men were to lay up, or to have laid up for them, a fund saved from their labours when employed, from which they were to be supplied when unemployed. Now, it would be impossible for the labourer to lay up money, if, as he feared was the case, he never at any time earned more than enough to keep himself. Indeed, he saw no prospect of relief from the evil which oppressed them, except in emigration. When that was begun, the agricultural parishes could take care that the vacancies that were made should not again be filled up. If so extreme a measure became necessary, he should not hesitate, when emigration was begun, to pull down the cottages, as fast as they became empty.

Mr. Wilmot Horton

said, he was disposed to agree most cordially with the hon. member for Hertford, that there was not much to be expected from the bill, in the way of general relief, although he concurred in the principles upon which it proceeded. As long as there was no restoration of the proportions between the two classes of society, and as long as they told the poor man that he had a right by law to be supported, so long must they continue to suffer under all the evils produced by a superabundant population. If the Poor-laws continued in full operation with this increasing population, they would ultimately absorb the whole rental of the country. He was surprised, however, to find that the country gentlemen, notwithstanding all that had been said, were not at all disposed to view the matter in that light. "What," said they, "deprive us of our population? Why, the population forms the wealth of the country." He told them, that if they thought proper to make a present of their estates to the poor, it was very well; but unless they discouraged the disposition to improvident marriages, the Poor-laws must in time absorb all the income of the higher classes. It was said, that they ought to cultivate the waste lands. But did they not recollect, that these waste lands, if they proved of good quality, would, of course, throw some of the poorer lands out of cultivation, and that the general effect must be to lower the rents of the land owners? It was not a little extraordinary that there existed such a degree of supineness upon a subject which involved the very existence of the higher classes. All remedies, however, must prove futile, until they assimilated the laws of England and Ireland, upon the subject of providing for the poor. He did not mean to say, that they ought to extend the English Poor-law system to Ireland; but that they ought to pass a law which would have the effect of checking the tendency to increase the population of both these countries, and restore the numerical proportions which ought to exist between the different classes of the people.

Mr. Ridley Colborne

condemned the system of paying labourers out of the poor-rates. The hon. mover professed by the bill to give employment to none of the able-bodied men who did not comply with certain conditions; but he ought to recollect, that if an able-bodied man were refused relief, in forty eight hours he became weak and helpless. He believed that all regulations of this kind must be left to the discretion of those who were called upon to administer their provisions. He apprehended, too, that the hon. gentleman's bill could not be carried into effect without some alteration of the law of Settlement. If they took away from the pauper the power to dispose of his labour in the best market—and at the same time, by the law of Settlement, fixed him to the soil, he conceived they were bound to find him employment.

Mr. Monck

thought the House ought to recollect that it was not the free institutions, but the happy and prosperous condition of its people, which gave a character to a nation. A good deal had been said about the redundancy of population being one of the effects of the Poor-laws; but the condition of Ireland, labouring under the same redundancy without any Poor-laws, shewed that the opinion was founded in fallacy. Ireland, without any Poor-laws, presented the spectacle of the most numerous, increasing, and deplorably wretched population on the face of the earth. After some observations in condemnation of the system of paying labourers out of the Poor-rates, which, he said, took its rise in his county, from a recommendation of the magistrates to avoid any rise in wages, lest they might find a difficulty in lowering them again, the hon. member observed, that the pay tables then invented had given rise to all the miseries which the paupers had since suffered. The moment the harvest was over, the farmer reduced the wages to eight shillings, then to seven, and so on until every labourer in the parish became a pauper. A man, too, who had a wife and two children, found himself in no worse condition than a single man. He had bread and water, the liberal allowance of the parish, as a single man; and he had bread and water as a married man; so that the system gave no discouragement to the increase of the number of paupers. If they refused relief to all able-bodied men, they would give an increase to mendicity; for if a man could not get work, there was no law which could compel him to abstain from asking relief; and they would thus cure one evil by increasing another. The only remedy for all this was, in his opinion, the adoption of a minimum of wages: and that might, perhaps, produce a minimum of wretchedness. He would give every man the price of a bushel of wheat, and that would afford him all the comforts of life. If he married then, knowing the amount of his wages, he married at his own peril. It was a law of nature, that the single man should be better off than the married man; but we reversed that law, and made the single man the worst off. It was impossible to counteract a law of nature with impunity, and accordingly, our present system punished us in the manner complained of.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, he agreed in all that had been offered with respect to the vast importance of this subject. He agreed also, that it was highly desirable that government should form a decided opinion upon it; but, unfortunately, it was one of those subjects which the more it was studied, the more difficult it was to come to a positive conclusion. It was in vain to call upon government to pronounce a decided opinion; for it was impossible for any man who had a proper diffidence of his own judgment to come to one. He could not think that the want of employment for the people of this country arose from any cessation of productiveness; for within the three last years there had been a greater quantity both of agricultural and manufacturing employment, than in any other three preceding years in the history of this country. How, then, were the increased rates to be accounted for? Did it arise from the operation of the Poor-laws? If so, how came it that in Ireland, where no Poor-laws existed, they were much worse off? In Scotland there was an intermediate system between that of England and Ireland; but there also there was distress, though not great. His impression was, that no effectual remedy could be applied in the present artificial state of the country. Much of the distress arose from the improvement of machinery, and what remedy, he would ask, could be applied against the progress of human enterprise and ingenuity? He was prepared to give his assent to the bill, but he thought it was necessary to consider its bearing upon other regulations connected with the same subject. He thought the law of settlement was intimately connected with the provisions of the bill. Many of the evils of the Poor-laws proceeded from the law of settlement; but that only shewed the difficulty of laying down any laws which might be applicable to all conditions of society. If the provisions of the bill were carried into effect, he was convinced it would be necessary to make considerable alterations in that law. The House could not pass the two measures simultaneously, without considering the bearing of one upon the other. The hon. mover had said a great deal on the abstract principle; but looking at the artificial state of society, and to the state of the laws relative to the poor, and to labour, he thought the hon. gentleman would be more likely to advance his purpose by giving it the full benefit of deliberate consideration. Considering the mode in which the Poor-laws were administered, it was difficult, if not impossible, to foresee how any new principle would work, merely from viewing it in the abstract. Until this measure, therefore, had been more discussed and examined than it now could be, he could not venture to support it merely on the able declaration of the hon. gentleman. In common with the rest of the House, he returned his acknowledgements to the hon. gentleman for the ability with which he had brought the question forward; but seeing how it was connected with other parts of the Poor-laws, he could not give it his support; though the hon. gentleman had his best wishes for the success of his object, which he thought would be most certainly attained by the fullest deliberation upon it.

Colonel Davies

regretted to hear the right hon. gentleman express his opinion, that there was no remedy for evils which were likely to absorb the prosperity of the country, and overturn its institutions. Certainly, if government would not take up the subject, nothing effectual could be accomplished; for as to any gentleman attempting to bring in any measure without the assistance of government, such was the magnitude of the question, that it was beyond the grasp of any individual. He thought the right hon. gentleman had taken a wrong view of it, when he stated it to be his opinion, that the two measures could not pass together. There was no difference in their principle. Nothing, indeed, could more usefully co-operate with the plan of the hon. mover for the amelioration of the condition of the poor, than an alteration of the law of Settlement. The right hon. gentleman asked, whether it was not a great hardship to refuse a pauper relief, and at the same time prevent him from carrying his labour to the best market? This was altogether a mistake. It was at present that the labourer was prevented from obtaining employment; because, under the existing law, the farmer was afraid, by employing him, of giving him a settlement. The man was thus driven back to his own parish; but if the farmer knew that by giving him labour, he did not give him a settlement, he would employ him, because he could not apprehend that the labourer would become a permanent burthen to the parish. The proposed bill would, therefore, give greater facilities to the poor man in carrying his labour to the best market. His hon. friend had been asked, how he could propose to refuse relief to an able-bodied man, unless, by being reduced to absolute starvation, he had fallen into a state of weakness and decrepitude? But did not those hon. gentlemen see, that if an able-bodied man, in order to live by asking alms, could only obtain them by reducing himself almost to starvation, the shocking spectacle he would exhibit would induce others to keep out of his situation, and would thus check the recklessness of the poor with regard to future consequences? He agreed with his hon. friend in all his propositions he had stated; and he trusted, that, when he brought in the bill, he would not set out by saying in despair, that nothing could be clone; because, while that feeling prevailed, nothing would be done. There was no doubt that effectual remedies might be applied to these evils. Mr. Malthus was of opinion, that if the country gentlemen, and particularly if ministers, would look the subject fairly in the face, they might be overcome. Such, also, was his own opinion.

Mr. Slaney

said, it was not his intention to press the bill through the House this session.

Mr. Whitmore

said, he admitted that great evils existed, in different parts of the country, from a redundant population; but he believed there was by no means throughout Great Britain, such a redundancy as the right hon. gentleman had stated. There always would be a certain pressure on the means of subsistence, which it would be impossible to prevent by any system of laws that could be framed. This pressure was very general in this country, but there was not that great degree of distress among the labouring classes which some gentlemen assumed. No one lamented the distress that actually did exist more than himself. It had arisen, in a great measure, from the causes stated by the hon. member for Reading. The system commenced in the county of Norfolk; and when it originated, Mr. Burke had pointed out the evils that would ensue from it. To that cause he chiefly attributed the distress of the labouring classes. It was his knowledge of the existence of that distress in particular places, and his conviction of the difficulty of finding any other remedy, that induced him to treat with favour the proposition to be submitted that evening on the subject of Emigration. No doubt, in particular places, great advantages would accrue from removing individuals who were now suffering the misery of extreme poverty. He understood that emigration, to a considerable extent, was taking place from five parishes in Sussex, and sanguine expectations were entertained that benefit would accrue from it. At any rate, great advantage would accrue from the discussion of the subject; because, as the evil had originated in the administration of the law, and more from the misapplication of the principle of the law than from the law itself, the remedy, after all, must be found in that system, which the people would learn by the discussion they had the power to introduce themselves. He had no doubt that they would be able to devise measures to remove, or at least to alleviate the existing evils, and prevent their growth in future. One advantage would assuredly arise from it. It would lessen the practice of paying the rent of cottages out of the poor-rates, by depriving it of the sanction of the magistrates. A reduction would follow in the rent of cottages, which were now raised to a great height in some places, because it was paid by the parish, and not by the occupants. In addition to the diminution of rent, he hoped to see the system prevail of giving sufficient gardens to the cottages. This plan had been introduced, with considerable benefit to the pauper and to the parish also, in the shape of a diminution of the rates. It had beside raised the poor in their own estimation, and, by increasing their comforts, ameliorated their condition. He returned his sincere thanks to the hon. mover for the great pains he had bestowed upon the subject, and the light he had thrown upon it.

Leave was given to bring in the bill.

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