HC Deb 19 November 1830 vol 1 cc596-602
Lord Nugent

rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill for the better providing Employment for the Labouring Poor, at fair and adequate wages. In doing so he observed, that the Bill which he was about to introduce was almost word for word the same as the Bill which he had carried to an advanced stage last Session, and which had been referred to a committee. The first clause of the Bill was the only one that was mandatory, and it was intended to do away with the system called roundsmen— a system which existed in a great many parishes, and which increased the rates, whilst it degraded the population. The remaining clauses of the Bill were only permissive to vestries to establish, by a majority of two-thirds, a common rate of labour. This would be the means to bring labour to a fair and open competition. He wished to avoid all descriptions of that distress which had existed last year in the county in which he resided, and in which labour was in a very unnatural state. He should not wish to express one-half of what he knew upon the subject, for his object was to mitigate and not to increase those bitter things which were felt on both sides by the classes interested in the cultivation of the soil. During the severity of winter, 4s. 6d. was the weekly wages of labourers in the county in which he resided, and in many parishes the wages were only 3s. 6d., whilst the peck of Hour, the starving ratio, the minimum of human existence, cost 3s. During all this distress, the calendar at the assizes and the quarter Sessions at the close of the winter was lighter than it had been for many years. He should not go further into the subject, as no opposition was intended to the Bill.

Mr. Ruthven

wished that the Bill could be extended to Ireland, though the Irish people ought to be obliged to the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir R. Peel) for what he had done for them, as well as for the fairness and candour, with which he had always avowed his opposition.

Mr. Cutlar Ferguson

bore testimony to the truth and good faith which the right hon. Gentleman had always observed towards the House. He differed from that right hon. Gentleman on many political questions, but there was no public man whose integrity he more highly esteemed.

Mr. Briscoe

highly approved of the Bill, and contended that parishes ought to have the power of employing poor on waste lands. There was no surer criterion of the strength and prosperity of a country than the condition of the labouring and middle classes. He wished each man also to have a small piece of ground.

Sir J. Shelley

was convinced that the measure would be practically useful in the part of the country with which he was best acquainted.

Mr. John Johnstone

knew from authentic information, that the county of Sussex was in a most deplorable state. Large bodies of labourers were going about compelling the farmers to give higher wages, and the farmers were unable to resist. Some measures should be speedily adopted.

Mr. Curteis

could not attribute the state of the labouring poor to the conduct of Government, and he was convinced that it would be impossible to do any thing for the poor, unless the higher agricultural classes did something for them. The Bill could not be extended to Ireland, as no Poor-laws existed in that country. He hoped that the Bill would have the effect anticipated, and whoever might be the new Ministers, he was confident that they could not stand unless they did something for the landed interest and the distressed peasantry.

Mr. D. W. Harvey

was more disposed to listen to those who suggested remedies for the evils, than to those who expatiated on them. It was not by Acts of Parliament that the distress could be remedied. All classes must lend a contributory hand, and especially landlords. Those who proposed that the salaries of Ministers should be reduced to the standard of 1792, should contrast their own rent-roll at present with the amount they received in 1792. Farmers could not afford to pay war-rents, war-tithes, and war-wages. Landlords must make large concessions, and the benefit would soon be felt and willingly acknowledged. He trusted that the clergy would practise the virtues of charity and forbearance, as well as inculcate them weekly.

Mr. Curteis

said, that the rents in the county he represented had generally been reduced one-third.

Mr. Long Wellesley

was understood to speak in favour of the Church Establishment, and to reprobate any modification of the tithe-system that might possibly be inconsistent with its security.

Sir M. W. Ridley

protested against the doctrine that the landlords and gentry of England were indifferent to the state of their tenantry. The rent of land was regulated by the laws of supply and demand, like all other commodities; and if humanity did not induce landlords to lower rents to the state of the market, good sense very soon would.

Mr. Hume

thought it preposterous to talk of reducing the rent of lands to what it had been in 1792, since, in the interval, a great deal of capital had been laid out in its improvement. Land that was worth 30l. per acre in 1792, was now worth perhaps 60l. per acre. Rent was like the price of every thing else, it could not be controlled by law, but must be regulated by demand and supply. All the evils of the country had sprung from the country gentlemen supporting the Government in its extravagance. If Government would but take off taxes, all classes would participate in the relief, and that was the best remedy that could be applied. He hoped that the House would take care to have a cheap Government—that every individual employed should be paid, but paid no more than their services deserved. The hon. member for St. Ives (Mr. Long Wellesley) was anxious to support the supremacy of the Church; but the Church had long been predominant, and it ought to be subordinate, for its supremacy had vitiated its power of doing good. Large payments had prevented the clergy from instructing the people. The best measure would be to abolish tithes, or to put them on the same footing with those of Scotland, where the tithe-payer knew not the renter. If tithes were not moderated, the clergy would soon get none at, all. The clerical tithes were not exacted with half the rigour of the lay tithes, and yet they excited greater irritation and discontent. The Government ought to remove such a source of obloquy, and apportion tithes according to the duty performed. In his opinion, a clergyman of 2,000l. a-year was no more fit for a parish priest than a nobleman was fit for a menial servant.

Mr. Ridley Colborne

was glad to have the subject of the Poor-laws brought forward; but it was attended with innumerable difficulties, and he much doubted the beneficial effects of the present measure.

Mr. Long Wellesley

explained, that he wished the tithe system reformed, but the supremacy of the Church maintained.

Lord Nugent, in reply, observed, that having in the few words with which he troubled the House in introducing his Motion, avoided, and in some degree deprecated, any reference to irritating topics, he could but express his regret at the course which the discussion had taken. One hon. Member complained that a great portion of the evils under which the country suffered, arose from the neglect of the landlord to his tenantry, and of the clergyman to his flock, and he had dwelt on the importance of these classes attending to the comforts of the labourers. His Bill had no relation to those subjects. Although he might regret that neglect occurred, and that evil arose from it, it was not his intention to interfere with the conduct of either of those classes. He was convinced that his measure would have a most beneficial effect on the well-being of the agricultural and labouring population of this country, an object which he was ardently desirous of promoting. He had listened with considerable pleasure to the hon. member for Surrey; but the suggestion which he threw out could not be brought within the present Bill, though he should be most willing to adopt any recommendation consistent with its principle. At the same time he must profess that he should be most willing to give him every assistance in carrying into effect the plan which he adverted to. He had seen the beneficial results of granting small portions of land to the labouring population. He had even tried it himself on a small scale, and found it work as well as he could expect. From all that he had experienced, he was satisfied that the more extensive adoption of it would be attended with the most beneficial results. He entertained a thorough conviction that it would be advantageous to allow parishes to give small portions of land to their labourers, but as that was entirely distinct from the principle of his Bill, he had said nothing respecting it. The hon. member for Surrey might perhaps require to be informed, that one of the greatest impediments to the success of a measure was endeavouring to make it comprise too much. This was particularly the case as regarded the Poor-laws; and if a Bill contained more than one remedy for one obvious abuse, there was no chance of its success. The most sure mode of removing the evils of the Poor-laws was, by applying a practical remedy to each single abuse. It would be impossible to carry a Bill for remedying all the evils of those laws: and therefore it was better to amend the system gradually. His Bill accordingly was confined to the putting a stop to one of the most obvious and most pernicious evils of the Poor-laws. He merely asked the House to abolish the detestable practice of paying the wages of the labourer out of the poor-rates, instead of his employer paving him. The other clauses of the Bill related to allowing parishes to establish a labour-rate for the employment of the poor who become chargeable. These were all the points contained in the Bill, to which he trusted the House would give its assent. His object was, to give labour a free market, and to remove every impediment to the labourer's getting a high rate of wages if he could. He was aware that there were large districts in this country in which the evil of paying the labourers out of the poor-rates did not prevail, and in which his Bill, therefore, would be inapplicable; but he did not conceive it expedient, on that account, to confine its operation to particular districts. He was aware that there was already a law on the subject, but not sufficiently strong to put a stop to the evil. He wished to declare, that such a mode of paying labour was illegal, and also to attach a penalty to the non-observance of the law. He heard with regret the observations which fell from the hon. member for Colchester, and he lamented that he should cast imputations on so large a class of persons as the landlords of England. He was convinced that they felt much concerned for the labouring classes, and

It will be seen by the Debates of the 16th, that the Ministers, in consequence of the defeat on the 15th, resigned their offices. The following changes were accordingly made:—

Offices Appointments In the room of
First Lord of the Treasury Earl Grey Duke of Wellington
Lord Chancellor Lord Brougham & Vaux Lord Lyndhurst
Lord President of the Privy Council Marquis of Lansdown Earl Bathurst
Privy Seal Lord Durham Karl of Rosslyn
Home Secretary Account Melbourne Sir R. Peel
Under Secretary Home Hon. G. Lamb Mr. Yates Peel
Colonial Secretary Viscount Goderich Sir G. Murray
Under Secretary Colonies Lord Howick Mr. Horace Twiss
Foreign Secretary Viscount Palmerston Earl of Aberdeen
Chancellor of the Exchequer Viscount Althorp Mr. Goulburn
First Lord of the Admiralty Sir J. Graham Viscount Melville
President of the Board of Control Rt. hon. C. Grant Lord Ellenborough
President of the Board of Trade, and Master of the Mint Lock Auckland Mr. Herries
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Lord Holland Mr. Arbuthnot
Lord Lieutenant of Ireland Marquis of Anglesea Duke of Northumberland
Lord Chamberlain Duke of Devonshire Earl of Jersey
Postmaster-General Duke of Richmond Duke of Manchester
Master of the Horse Earl of Albemarle Duke of Leeds
Lord Steward Marquis Wellesley Duke of Buckingham
Judge Advocate Mr. R. Grant Sir J. Beckett
Woods and Forests Hon. A. Ellis Lord Lowther
Paymaster-General Lord J. Russell Mr. Calcraft
Vice-President of the Board of Trade and Treasurer of the Navy Mr. Chas. P. Thomson F. Lewis
Secretary for Ireland Mr. E. G. S. Stanley Sir H. Hardinge
Master-General of the Ordnance Sir W. Gordon Viscount Beresford
Surveyor-General of the Ordnance Sir R. Spencer Sir H. Fane
Secretaries of the Treasury Mr. Edward Ellice Mr. Joseph Planta
Mr. Spring Rice Mr. Geo. R. Dawson

were willing to make every proper sacrifice for their relief. He could not agree with that hon. Member in designating them as a useless and unfeeling body. The hon. Member stated, that the law of landlord and tenant was a system made entirely in favour of the former, and against the latter. He denied this to be the case; but if it were, what that had to do with the subject before the House he was at a loss to conceive.

Leave given, and Bill brought in and read a first time.