§ Mr. Sadler
rose to submit to the House his Motion for bettering the condition of the Labouring Poor, and began by observing upon the great importance of the subject, and the necessity of treating it in detail. He therefore, though very reluctantly, felt himself obliged to divide the subject; and, deferring to another occasion, and the first that might occur, the consideration of a measure in behalf of the manufacturing poor, he should then principally address himself to the state of the agricultural poor, with a view to ameliorating their condition. He disclaimed, in taking up these subjects, any pretension to superior benevolence, and in stating the reasons which had induced him to address himself, of late, principally to such matters, he must express a hope that the House would do justice to his motives in so acting. The subject, he maintained, was of paramount importance, however, com- 499 pared and considered. Paley had asserted it to be the first duty of the Legislature to take care of the poor; and a benevolent writer of a former century had emphatically declared, that, were a whole Session so employed, it would be spent more to the honour of God and the good of society than on any other subjects in which the noblest patriots could engage. "If this," continued the hon. Member, "were true in former times, and under ordinary circumstances, how stands the case at the present period? What is now the condition of your poor; and in the first place of your agricultural poor? It is a condition, the consideration of which you cannot evade if you would, and ought not if you could. Let those fears which have been but recently allayed, if, indeed, they can yet have subsided, teach us in time an impressive lesson. It would be a gross and fallacious libel upon the character of the industrious peasantry of England, heretofore the most contented and meritorious class of society among us, if the insubordination which has been but recently, if yet fully subdued, and which exhibited them at once reckless of crime and fearless of its punishment, has not a cause answerable in its character to the calamitous consequences it has occasioned. To doubt this, would be to give way to a grosser infatuation than any to which they have unhappily yielded. Let me illustrate this by one of the most striking and appalling incidents latterly recorded in our history. At a previous and hardly more alarming period than we have just witnessed, a similar spirit broke out among another important class of our countrymen—I allude to the time when the Navy of England became mutinous. How did you act at that most trying moment? You put down, indeed, and with a strong hand, the alarming insubordination. But that done, you entered upon that which was equally your duty, and one which you ought previously to have discharged, when it would have spared the country the fear and shame with which it was then overwhelmed. You inquired into the wrongs of the British tars; you found them to be numerous and insupportable, and you redressed them. The rest need not be told. You performed your duty, and they did theirs—how nobly, can never be forgotten: they went forth and wreathed the brow of their country with fresh and unfading laurels; they won those triumphs which had never previously been equalled, and 500 which will never be surpassed while England shall continue to have a name or a place among the nations. Sir, the agricultural peasantry are now prostrated: this then is the time to listen to their just complaints; this is the moment to redress their grievances; and it is a duty which sound policy, as well as humanity, will not allow to be postponed. Delay will render the attempt more difficult, and at last hopeless. No subject, I will venture to affirm, however important in itself or momentous in its results, is at all comparable in its urgency or magnitude to this—the serious and timely consideration of the deplorable condition, with a view to its permanent amelioration, of the millions of our labouring, but suffering and degraded poor. What, Sir, is that condition? I have spoken, I think, of the difficulties of my present attempt, and I feel them most sensibly; but, alas, the making out my case, that of the sufferings and degradation of our labouring poor, is not one of those difficulties. Many other classes of society have, it may be hoped, advanced in the general career of human happiness and prosperity: this class, however, has visibly and lamentably retrograded; till at length few of those who compose it have anything left to surrender, anything further to fear. We live, Sir, in a period of great changes; but none of them, whether completed or in progress, and which still agitate society around us, at all equal in anything but name, the revolution which has taken place in the state and condition of our agricultural poor in many parts of the country, and which has hardly 'left a wreck behind' of all their former prosperity and happiness. Long placed in an enviable situation compared with those of any other country, from them our moralists drew their proofs of the equal dispensations of human happiness—our poets, their loveliest pictures of simple and unalloyed pleasures—our patriots, their best hopes as to the future destinies of the country; while their humble abodes, the cottages of England, surrounded by the triumphs of their industry, were as distinguished by their beauty as were their inmates for their cheerfulness and contentment. Hope still brightened this humble, but happy condition, and the prospect of advancement in life was then ever open to the peasant's persevering industry, and the means were within his reach. I need not trace this progress step by step; the path of prosperity was open to him, or to those dearer to him than himself, his children, 501 whom his exulting heart often beheld advancing to the very summits of society, to which they added dignity, the dignity of virtue and merit. Yes, Sir, I need not remind the House how many of those who have rendered immortal honour to their country—how many of your greatest merchants—how many laurelled and mitred heads, have sprung from the cottage? Such, then, was the situation of this class; what is it at present? The "bold peasantry of England, their country's pride," are, generally speaking, now extinct. An ignorant and selfish system of spurious political economy, dictating first to the mercantile, and then to the agricultural interest, had at length triumphed, and these are its consequences. I shall attend to some of its dicta hereafter; meantime, let me now contrast the present condition to which the agricultural poor have been reduced, with that which I have described as enjoyed by them till its heartless dogmas prevailed. The system of demolition and monopoly, which has, in the emphatic language of the inspired volume, "laid house to house, and field to field, that they may stand alone in the earth," has left no place for the poor, none for the little cultivator; none for the peasant's cow; no, not enough, in one case in ten, for a garden. The best of the cottages have been demolished—"spurned indignant from the green," as the loveliest of the poets of poverty, Goldsmith, sings. The lonely and naked hut into which they are now thrust, for which is exacted an exorbitant rent, is destitute, both without and within, of all that formerly distinguished their humble abodes, is often unfit to stable even quadrupeds, and frequently so crowded by different families, as to set not comfort merely, but decency at defiance, and render morality itself an impossible virtue. Thither, then, the unhappy parent, when employed, carries his wages, which, with the exception of a few short weeks in the year, are utterly inadequate to supply the necessities of a craving family. Wages did I say? Parish pay! He is, perhaps, sold by auction, as is the case in certain parishes, where he is actually reduced to the condition of a slave, or driven to the workhouse, where he is often treated worse than a felon. Labour meant to degrade and insult him is often prescribed to him; or, wholly unemployed, he sits brooding over his miserable fate; winter labour, whether for himself or his wife and children, 502 having been long since taken away. Perpetually insulted by false and heartless accusations for being a pauper, when his accusers have compelled him to become such; for being idle, when his work has been taken from him; for improvidence, when he can hardly exist—he feels these insults barbed by past recollections which fasten in his heart—which utter hopelessness withers within him. The very sympathies of his nature become reversed: those who would once have constituted his comforts and pleasures, his ragged and half-starved offspring, who cannot stray a pace from his hovel without becoming trespassers and being severely treated as such, they, with their wretched mother, increase his misery. He escapes, perhaps, from the scene of his distress, and attempts to lose the recollection of it and of himself, in dissolute and dangerous courses. Meantime, had some peculiar calamity, some inscrutable visitation of Providence reduced him to this condition, perhaps he might have sustained it with composure of spirit. But he knows otherwise. He can trace his sufferings and degradation to their true source. He knows they have been inflicted upon him, and he feels what would be their cure, and can calculate how little it would cost others to make him and his supremely happy. Meantime, the authors of his sufferings are those that insult him with demanding that he should be quiet and grateful, that he should be contented and cheerful under them! "They that have wasted him, require mirth!" Not only are the falsest accusations levelled at him, but even the feelings common to nature are imputed to him as an offence; his Marriage was a crime; his children are so many living nuisances; he himself is pronounced a redundancy; and after having been despoiled of every advantage he once possessed, he is kindly recommended as his best, and indeed only course to transport himself for life, for the good of his oppressors, and to die un-pitied and unknown in some distant wilderness. And this, Sir, is the condition at the present moment of thousands—of tens of thousands—of the labouring poor. Sir, I am neither following my imagination nor my feelings in this description—I am embodying facts. The picture I have hastily drawn is not the work of fancy, nor is it exaggerated for the occasion: its darkest features are those which have been already presented to this House and the country by reports published by Committees of 503 Parliament, appointed to examine into and report upon the very condition in question. To some of these I shall speedily refer. In those public documents, Sir, are fully pourtrayed the degradation and destitution of the labouring poor in many parts of England, and the oppression and extortion under which they labour. And, Sir, have not recent events given their unequivocal and tremendous testimony to the truth of these statements? It is quite unnecessary for me to add my humble testimony to the truth of these representations; but having recently gone through several of the districts referred to, and often personally inspected the condition in question, I can safely answer for their truth. Imagination may depict, my language cannot, the scenes of distress accompanied by mingled despondency and irritation, which I have witnessed. Nor let it be concluded that this is the situation of the idle and profligate only, which too many are quite ready to call every unfortunate being who may happen to become poor and burthensome. No, Sir. It is one of the most dreadful characteristics of the present system, wherever it prevails, that the entire class are constantly confounded, and the whole of it doomed to one undistinguishable mass of misery. Finally, Sir, I must add, and I do so with unfeigned reluctance, but it is necessary to speak the real truth in order to rouse us to a sense of our duty, and quicken us in the discharge of it—this state of things is remediable—remediable by Parliament, which cannot, I fear, be held altogether guiltless of having permitted, if not produced it. Individually, I acquit them, and freely confess that in their personal and local sphere, the Aristocracy and landed proprietors of England are among the most attentive and benevolent individuals of the community; and that none are more anxious to prevent or to relieve the sufferings of the poor under their immediate notice and protection. But it is to those parts of the country, and they comprehend a vast proportion of its surface, which are far removed from their notice to which I particularly advert, where a false and pernicious system of management is suffered to prevail, and where the poor are consequently under the domination of a set of English middlemen, who often act as fully up to that character, and are as deserving of the name, as those of Ireland; and where a 504 system of cruelty, oppression and extortion prevails, which has at length placed the labourers in different parts on the utmost limits of endurance, and in many instances pushed them beyond it. Meantime, the evil is rapidly spreading, and must be remedied, or we are undone. When, therefore, we contemplate the multitudes of our agricultural poor who are already plunged into the state I have been describing, and know that the rest are rapidly sinking into it—when we have been made to understand so fully, by recent and fearful experience, that it is a condition that cannot and will not be much longer endured—I think policy, as well as humanity, will urge us to attempt a remedy for the ills of this important part of the people; and may not I add to these motives, those of justice and gratitude? When we recollect that it is this class that affords us our daily bread, and spreads our boards with the plenty we enjoy, can we remain any longer insensible to their privations and sufferings, and consent to muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn, and see it abused and goaded in its labours to deeds of desperation and destruction? But let us now inquire what are the causes which have produced this lamentable state of things; and it is the more necessary to ascertain these, as I am fully persuaded that the false views which have unhappily prevailed regarding them, have dictated the policy which has produced the evils we have been contemplating, and will, if not rectified, withstand the application of their only remedies. In this inquiry I shall confine myself as much as possible to those authentic and official documents, which have been put forth by the authority of this House on these important topics. Sir, I hold in my hand the report of the Select Committee on labourers' wages—a document to which it is necessary that I should more particularly allude, as it pronounces upon the subject on which I am treating, with the express sanction and authority of this House. It is a document indeed of a most singular character, embodying evidence of a very important description, yet drawing from it, as it appears to me, deductions wholly irreconcileable with its general tenor. Premising that the miserable and degraded condition of the poor is fully set forth in this report, I will proceed to consider, as shortly as possible, the conclusions at which it arrived, 505 and which it presented to this House and the public; and it is the more necessary to examine them, as they have long been held as incontrovertible, and are repeated as such in pamphlets, and reviews, and speeches, whenever the subjects of the English labouring poor and their distresses force themselves upon the attention of our writers and speakers upon political economy. And, first, this report attributes a great part of the evil it points out, to the mal-administration of the Poor laws. This is the inexhaustible source of declamation with those who vainly hope to cripple or destroy the national charity in this country, or to prevent its extension to the other divisions of the British empire, both of which attempts will prove equally unavailing. I am not about to contend, that the institution is perfect, or that its administration is in all cases faultless; but I will maintain, that both one and the other are more free from all just imputation than any other establishment in the country. The misapplications of the national charity are not attributable to the law; they are rather the result of a conspiracy among the wealthier classes where such evils occur to evade it; and even where its benevolent code is so wrested as to oppress and degrade while it relieves, still, even in such cases, it still stands between the proud oppressor and the prostrate poor, and shields the latter from still greater miseries than they endure—from Irish starvation! But, Sir, the official record before me, which, as I before mentioned, fully recognizes the miserable condition of the poor, assigning for it as a reason the supposed malversation of the Poor-laws, goes on to state, as the consequence, 'that thereby a surplus population is encouraged—men know they have only to marry.' Aware, Sir, that these notions are not only generally, but almost universally prevalent; that they are taken as so many truisms and repeated as such; that they embody the notions of the political economists on this subject, who however widely they may differ, and however warmly they may disagree, are, nevertheless, on this topic, unanimous; and being perfectly aware that any general attempt to better the condition of the agricultural poor, if these positions were true, would not only be entirely fruitless, but even pernicious in its ultimate consequences, it is necessary, before I proceed, to examine these confident assertions; and I pledge 506 myself to this House to overthrow the whole of them, and exhibit them, as they in reality are, a set of the most egregious errors that ever darkened the understanding, or deadened the heart of man. I shall do this, not by reasoning, but by arithmetic—by matters of fact; not by the selection of certain instances to serve my purpose, but by taking those selected by the Committee, doubtless, with a view of advancing its own. It is asserted, then, in this report, that the counties of Northumberland, Cumberland, and Lincoln, are nearly, if not totally, exempt from the malversation of the Poor-laws, which produce, according to its authority, these numerous marriages, and this increase of surplus population. The counties, on the other hand, where that malversation is stated to be most general, and where, consequently, the plague of marriage and population most prevails are particularised. They are these—Suffolk, Sussex, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Dorsetshire, and Wiltshire. Now, Sir, there were, during the ten years preceding the date of the last census, celebrated in the counties of Northumberland, Cumberland, and Lincoln, 45,288 marriages, the arithmetical mean of the population being in that term 606,600, or rather more than one annual wedding to every 133 of the inhabitants. But in the six counties in which we are to look for this great excess of marriages, there were, during the same term, on a mean population of 1,046,350 souls, 76,949 marriages, or one annual marriage in 136 only. But this comparison, though it decides the dispute, does not give the real truth in its just proportions; the practice of so many marriages in the border counties of Northumberland and Cumberland being celebrated across the boundaries—a fact which Mr. Rickman has mentioned in those censuses (which are, in every point of view, an honour to the country as well as to his great industry and talents), as greatly diminishing the registered proportion of such marriages. To arrive, therefore, at a more just comparison, let us take, for instance, the county of Lincoln, which is stated to be free from the evils in question, and that of Dorset, which is particularised as one of those in which they are the most prevalent and oppressive, each of which, on the authority of an intelligent and humane witness, who had resided in both, deserves to be thus selected. Well, Sir, the marriages in Lin- 507 colnshire, computed as before, had for the preceding ten years been rather more than one in 128, while in Dorset the proportion was not as much as one in 144; so utterly groundless then, so entirely opposed to facts, are the allegations of this report. But, Sir, I will place the matter in another and yet stronger light, by presenting facts, still authentic and official, of such a character that defy all contradiction or evasion, and which will dispose at once and for ever of the stale and senseless accusations against the poor of these counties, where they are at once grievously oppressed and cruelly misrepresented. The report in question says, that the misery it describes, is 'in great part to be attributed to the maladministration of the Poor-laws during the latter years of the late war.' Let us examine the exact facts in this case also. Taking then the whole period of its duration, namely, that from 1803 to 1813, including and dividing it into two equal parts, of five years each, giving half the intermediate year 1808 to each, we shall find that the number of the marriages in Suffolk, Sussex, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Dorsetshire, and Wiltshire, was 39,315 in the former half, while in the latter it amounted to 37,417 only. But the number of the marriages in the three counties which the Committee pronounce to be free from these malversations, advanced during the same period, from 22,081 to 23,227. If we take a still wider range in this examination, we shall find the results are precisely similar. Taking the average of the first two years of the late war (in order to avoid the casual fluctuations which might affect single ones), viz., those of 1803 and 1804, we find that the weddings amounted to 7836. I have already stated how much the marriages fell off in the latter period, in fact, in 1812 and 1813, the average number was 6774 only. And here I cannot refrain from pausing, to put a very important question. I ask, whether the malversation in the Poor-laws, and the consequent misery of the poor labourers, so strongly depicted in this report, namely, their living chiefly upon bread, or even potatoes, scarcely ever tasting meat or beer, or being able to buy milk, is a state justly attributed to the condition of agriculture during the same period—whether the profits of that pursuit, and the price of all its produce during the latter part of 508 the last war would not have enabled the great cultivators, the farmers, to have afforded direct and sufficient Wages to their poor labourers, without degrading them as paupers, and partly starving them into the bargain? Shall I mention the average price of grain during this term. I need not. Let, however, this striking fact suggest to us this important conclusion, that no returning state of prosperity as regards the agricultural interests, will ever restore comfort and independence to the poor labourer, except this House comes in to his defence, and defeats a combination arrayed against him, compared with which he is utterly powerless. But when we extend the inquiry by a reference to the forthcoming census (which I have already diligently examined for this purpose), to the years immediately preceding the date of this report, those of 1822 and 1823, the average number of marriages in these two years will be found to be 7,767; consequently still less than it had been nearly twenty years before; and that of the terminating years of 1829 and 1830 will exhibit, I think, the same average as compared with the first—still almost precisely stationary, though they ought to have advanced to upwards of 10,000, without showing any relative increase; the population of these counties (exclusive of Brighton, throughout the whole calculation) during these twenty-eight years, having increased upwards of thirty per cent. So entirely opposed to truth, therefore, are the assumptions of our economists regarding the habits and condition of our labouring poor, and so utterly, therefore, do they err as to the only means of remedying their distresses. But not to dwell further upon these pernicious mistakes, I will now proceed to prove, and from the pages of the very report which has given its authority to so injurious an error, that, notwithstanding the discouragements to which labour has been subjected in this country, our rural population is not, even yet, redundant; and, in doing so, I will confine myself to the simple facts published in this report, and those will abundantly suffice to negative the conclusion at which the Committee unhappily arrived. We find it there stated that, even as early as April, all the healthy labourers are employed; that April is a very busy time; and that from thence to the termination of the harvest the demand for labour increases, need not be mentioned; so much 509 so, indeed, that on turning to the agricultural surveys, I find that in the counties where so much is said of the redundancy of labourers, even the hay harvest could not be got in by the resident population without foreign assistance. But to come to the main question, and to determine it on the authority of the witness whom the Committee very properly place at the head of their list of witnesses, as having more minute and practical knowledge regarding what is called the market of labour, especially in the rural districts, than almost any other individual that could have been selected—I mean Mr. M'Adam. To the first question put to him he replies, that he has had very considerable experience in hiring labour in the country. The second query is this—'Have you found in general that it is very easy to obtain labourers?' The answer: 'Generally speaking I have, excepting during the harvest months; we then find a great scarcity of workmen.' And yet, Sir, the Committee talk about the redundancy of agricultural labourers! Nor is this all. The agricultural labourers are not only not redundant; they are too few! Were it not for a large accession of workmen at the period of the harvest, much of the product of the land would never be secured. In addition to the influx of hands from towns and manufacturing districts, an immense assistance is also demanded annually from Ireland, or the harvests of England could neither be reaped nor gathered in. I need not, I presume, bring proofs of this fact, otherwise they could be easily obtained. I have myself consulted some of the managers of our great steam-boat companies, and I find from them, that there annually leave Ireland for the harvest fields of Great Britain, a number which I cannot calculate at less than the entire male adult population employed as agricultural workmen in some five or six of our English counties, though they are dispersed, it is true, through the whole of our corn districts. And if your fields could not be reaped, I need not say they would never be sown. It is, therefore, idle, worse than idle, for political economists, whether in this House or out of it, to rant about the redundancy of labour. It is not merely abhorrent to humanity, to reason as they do, it is an insult to truth, and an outrage upon common sense. Does such an infatuated feeling prevail in any other case 510 whatever? Does the sportsman deem his horses and his dogs redundant in the summer months—the General call his soldiers superfluous while in their winter quarters? In the very commonest concerns of life is any such delusion witnessed? But when we come to talk of our labourers, the political economist determines whether they are in excess or otherwise, not by the demand for them in the season of the year when they are essentially necessary, but in that in which he imagines he can dispense with them altogether—a method of computation which would make out a case against them as clearly as at present, were the population of the country reduced to a tenth of its present number. Nothing then can be more absurd and unjust than the present method of computing the alleged surplus of agricultural labourers. Under the best possible system, their labour will be less pressingly demanded in the winter than in the spring and harvest months. Nor is it, when duly considered, one of the least strikingly benevolent ordinations in nature, that the hardest and most essential operations of husbandry have to be performed in the finest periods of the year when the days are the most protracted and the weather the most temperate. Hence at all times, in every country, and under whatever system of cultivation, the ancient maxim will be found applicable, hyems ignava colono. In the natural order of things other industrious occupations have been reserved for this comparatively inactive and severe season, and have occupied it; of these, however, the industrious cottagers of England have been, in great measure, bereft, by causes over which they have had no control; and this circumstance, Sir, is it, that, among many others, has occasioned much of the distress under which they labour, and has furnished the apology for these perpetual declamations as to their redundancy. Still, however, as we cannot, in conformity with the new theory, annihilate them when we do not want their labour, because we cannot revive and multiply them when we do; and as nature has not indulged us with a human genus that can hybernate, or one which, after having secured the fruits of their industry, we can safely destroy when we have obtained its honey, as we once did their prototype, the bee; if, in short, we cannot gather in the kindly fruits of the earth, nor in due time 511 enjoy them, without our full agricultural force, then, Sir, notwithstanding all a selfish and stolid theory may repeat, the labourer whom our present system has deprived of all his comforts, and degraded so deeply in his character and feelings, is, at the very season we have doomed him to idleness and want, and would bid him if we could, to be gone, as necessary to us as our daily bread. Let us, then, proceed to develope the real causes of this afflicting, and I, may indeed say, alarming state of things, with a view to their ultimate removal. On entering upon this important branch of the subject I shall again once for all, assert that it is to the deserving and industrious poor—those who always did, and ever would, most eagerly avail themselves of all those advantages which such once possessed, and of which they are now totally deprived that I exclusively refer. And let those who object to this classification, and wish to found an apology for the indiscriminate neglect and injury of the entire class, by confounding the character of the whole, point out in what respect the most meritorious of them have been favoured, and in what manner it is possible to benefit them under the present system; a system which dooms the whole to a state of indiscriminate suffering and degradation, because, as it assumes, some of them have deserved it. In tracing, then, the causes which have led to the present degradation of the labourers in husbandry, I must, however it may startle the prejudices of some, commence with the large farming system. Reason, it might have been supposed, would have dictated another course—that, as the population of the country increased, the number of farmers should have augmented, or, as old Hobbes said, that 'they should live closer and cultivate better.' Political economy, falsely so called, advised however directly to the contrary; and, appealing as it ever does to human selfishness, prevailed. But in this, however, as in most other cases, its principles have been falsified by experience, and its prophecies have totally failed. The land has become less productive in large divisions, as it ever does; less capital has been applied to it, for labour is capital. A less surplus produce has been obtained for the public; for this is determined by the fact that a smaller rent is received by the landlord, and that less punctually and certainly; and, after all, the expense of 512 keeping up a few additional farm-houses has been far more than counterbalanced by the great addition to the poor-rates, which the farmer has taken care should at length fall upon the landlord. On this highly important and interesting topic I had collected a considerable mass of statistical proofs; but I cannot now presume even to enumerate them. I will, however, state, that the experience of every agricultural country is clear and full upon this point. In Flanders the size of the farms has been, consequently, long limited by law, but, as one of its most intelligent writers observes, the experience of the superiority of the minuter system has had the effect of still further curtailing their size and multiplying their number. In Italy, where the state of cultivation is presented in such wide extremes, an able practical agriculturist of our own country comes to this conclusion, that 'every state in the Peninsula is productive or otherwise, in proportion to the number of farmers on a given space of land of equal quality.' In France such also is precisely the fact, as I can confidently assert, having most accurately examined the Cadastre for that purpose. This fact is beginning also to be seen in England, and will be demonstrated more clearly every day, even by pecuniary considerations alone. I am not arguing that farms here should be limited by law, or that they should all be reduced to one, and that a small extent; far otherwise. What I would contend for is the superiority of that moderate and mixed system of husbandry, which leaves the deserving peasantry of the country the opportunities and hopes of ultimate advancement; and this I believe to be far the most profitable state: that it is the happier one, as regards the great bulk of the people, not a doubt can exist. Hence Paley classes among his deeds of benevolence the splitting of farms. But, Sir, what I have to do with the question, at present, is, to show that the system of 'engrossing great farms,' to use Bacon's expression, has been among the first of a series of connected causes which have led to the present degradation of our labouring poor. I shall not advert to past times, when the same practice is described by our authentic historians as having led to such fatal consequences; the present are sufficient for my purpose. No one can take up the work of any agricultural theorist, if published some time 513 ago, but he will find the most pressing recommendations to the land-owners to increase the size of their farms, and the most tempting calculations to induce them so to do. Meantime, there was an equal unanimity as to the advantage of such a course, even to the little cultivators themselves; they were to do abundantly better as labourers than as small farmers. They valued, indeed, their independent state; they were reluctant—agonized I may say, in every instance—at the thought of being driven from their holdings, but they were compelled to submit. The village Ahabs seized upon the vineyards of their industry, and their destruction was complete. The numerous class of little cultivators, or as they might be called, independent or free labourers, being thus extinguished, let us trace their condition into that class whose numbers they greatly augmented—the dependent or servile labourers, as I fear they may be too justly denominated. Two ranks only existing, let us see next how these labourers have been treated to whom such large and consoling promises had been held forth. Why, Sir, still the plea of public improvement was advanced, improvement of which they were again to be the sole victims; I now allude to the manner in which the inclosures of the commons and wastes of the country were carried into effect, which comprised, within a comparatively short period of time, so large a part of the entire surface of the kingdom. I am not about to contend, that inclosures should not have taken place; on the contrary, I would have had them become universally prevalent; one general inclosure Act, as was often urged, ought to have been passed for that purpose; then, it was often said, the ancient and sacred rights of the poor labourers would have been secured, and just reservations made for them in mortmain placed under the management of every parish—the only way of preserving their rights and privileges as a class; but, alas, all such inclosures were made by the wealthy and interested parties, and their humbler rights, equally recognised by justice and sound policy, were totally disregarded. Sir, I contend that the poor cottagers and labourers had an equitable, if not a legal right, agreeable to the known principles of the British law. If it be argued that their claims could only be founded, in many cases, upon usurpations, as the law would denominate them, so, it should be recollected, are all the rights 514 of property among us, at least as expounded by a fiction of that law. The tenants in capite encroached upon the Crown; the lesser upon the greater Barons; the smaller proprietors, especially the copyholders, upon the Barons. Indeed, it is calculated by Barrington, in his work on our Ancient Statutes, that not many centuries ago, half the lands of England were held upon the degrading tenure of villeinage; and, though the state that term implied, or the galling conditions it imposed, were never abolished by statute, it gradually ceased by force of long usage. Thus has custom ratified those rights of possession which grew up imperceptibly among us, prescribing accordingly the appropriation of all property not yet in severally. Thus, if a royal forest has to be inclosed, the contiguous parishes, or rather proprietors, demand their share, on the ground that they have depastured upon it. They urge their claims, "and have those claims allowed." But shall we not blush for ourselves and our country, when we observe at what precise point it is, that this principle stops—that those essential rights, interests, advantages, call them what you please, which ought on every plea, whether of justice, humanity, or policy, to have been liberally considered and fully secured, have been altogether slighted and sacrificed; that land which had not been appropriated since it was created, was, when divided, dealt to the wealthy alone, and in shares proportioned to their wealth, to the total exclusion of the claims of the poor; and that in those cases where, according to Locke's doctrine, they had obtained a sort of natural right to their little cot, with its inclosure, by having obtained it by their own labour, and in some sort created it—even then, as he indignantly exclaims, the rich man, who possessed a whole county, seized when he pleased upon the cottage and garden of his poor neighbour, in contempt of what, had they been as fully traced, and as well asserted, would have been found to be rights which ought to have been as sacred as his own. I am aware that I am now taking a most serious view of this subject. God forbid, however, that I should pursue this course with any other view than that of inducing the Legislature to look into this matter, and then it will, I am sure, make some restitution (and moderate, indeed, will be all that I shall propose, and involving no sacrifice of property whatever) for the in- 515 juries sustained by the poor in this to them important matter. I shall, therefore, persist in showing, on authorities as well conversant with the common law of the country, and the rights in question as any, I think, that now exist, that the Inclosure Acts, as they have been carried into effect, have been inconsistent with the principles of law as well as with equity and mercy. I will first quote the earliest legal author who wrote specially upon inclosing, or, as he expresses it in the legal phrase which still survives, approving; and one who was also a practical agriculturist—Sir Anthony Fitzherbert, the celebrated lawyer and Judge. He thus lays down the law on the occasion, in his book of Surveying. 'Every cottager sal have his portion assigned him, and then sal not the ryche man overpresse the poore man.' Sir Robert Cotton, of the same profession, and who also wrote expressly upon the subject—inclosing, speaks thus:—'In the carriage of this business there must be much caution to prevent commotion;' he recommends, therefore, that plots shall 'be devised to such inhabitants, and at and under easy values.' Lord Chancellor Bacon, strenuously urging the same agricultural improvement, couples, it however, with this momentous condition—'So that the poor commoners have no injury by such inclosures.' The total neglect, however, of their rights in all such proceedings called forth the strongest reprobation of a succeeding Chancellor, who termed the system as pursued—"a crime of a crying nature." I have adverted to Locke's energetic expressions on the subject, and shall pass over many others, only adducing one more authority of a modern date, and of an official character. It is that of a report drawn up, I believe, by the excellent and patriotic Sir John Sinclair, whose long life has been devoted to the service of his country, of a select Committee of the House of Commons, appointed for the special purpose of considering the subject, which clearly recognises these rights of the poor, and most strongly recommends that they should be secured. 'If' says the report, 'a general bill were to be passed, every possible attention to the rights of the commoners would necessarily be paid. The poor would then evidently stand a better chance of having their full share undiminished.' I will not multiply these authorities; suffice it to say, that all such have held the pri- 516 vileges the poor formerly possessed in the light of sacred rights, and have earnestly contended for the necessity of their preservation; these, however, have been now almost entirely wrested from them by a series of private inclosure bills, inflicting upon them, as a class, the most irreparable injuries. Inclosures, indeed, might have been so conducted as to have benefitted all parties; but now, coupled with other features of the system, they form a part of what Blackstone denominates a "fatal rural policy;" one which has completed the degradation and ruin of your agricultural poor. Formerly the industrious labourer had this means of advancement; to this remaining privilege, also, the ejected little farmer could resort, but at the same time, and under the same system that some village monopolist seized upon his fields, he drove him also from the waste.If to some common's fenceless limits strayed,He drives his flock to pick the scanty blade,Those fenceless fields the sons of wealth divide,And e'en the bare-worn common is denied.Now, Sir, it was from the first so obvious, notwithstanding all the interested and selfish declarations to the contrary, that inclosures, as they were carried into effect, would be greatly injurious to the industrious poor, that it hardly seems necessary to prove how truly these fears have been verified. I will, however, just mention that the report of a Committee on inclosures, in 1808, states, that the results which were the subject of examination in a tour of 1,600 miles, made for that purpose, proved that they had been clearly injurious to the poor. An intelligent witness informs another Committee of this House, namely, that which sat to inquire into the high price of provisions, that he had himself been a Commissioner under twenty inclosure Acts, and states his opinion as to their general effect on the poor, lamenting that he had been thereby accessary to injuring 2,000 poor people, at the rate of twenty families per parish. I fear, sir, the reply of a poor fellow to Arthur Young, the great advocate of inclosures (though under regulations which would indeed have rendered them a benefit to all parties) recorded in one of his agricultural surveys, is true to a more or less degree of every industrious labourer in England, wherever these improvements have taken place. To his query as to whether the inclosure had injured him, he replied, 517 'Sir, before the inclosure I had a good garden, kept two cows, and was getting on; now I cannot keep so much as a goose, and am poor and wretched, and cannot help myself, and still you ask me if the inclosure has hurt me!' Nor, Sir, has the system in question stopped even here. Another, and if possible, a still deeper injury which it has also perpetrated, still remains to be noticed. Not only has the little farm been monopolised, the common right destroyed, the garden in many instances seized, but the cottage itself demolished; and the plough-share now drives over many a little plot where once stood the bower of contented labour. A few blooming shrubs are still seen twining round in the fence, and here and there a flower, tenacious of the soil, blossoms in its season upon the spot which was once the abode of peace and happiness; like those which grow upon the grave of some forgotten, but once loved being though the hand which planted them is also gone for ever. I am presenting, Sir, no imaginary or solitary cases—no, these demolitions have been, as Lord Winchilsea observed in his communications to the Board of Agriculture, many years ago, most numerous; and, not content with the opportunities these inclosures gave them, the great agriculturists have, in not a few instances, combined and subscribed to forward this work of destruction; and it has even been gravely propounded as a question in this House, or at least in its Committees, whether direct legal means ought not to be employed to hasten it forwards. There has been no occasion—the work is accomplished. Those have prevailed who have pronounced the labouring poor to be redundant, and whose nests, therefore, as human vermin, were to be cleared; hence their humble abodes have been demolished. The foxes, indeed, might have holes, and the birds of the air nests, but these Christian philosophers would not let a poor man have where to lay his head. Three results have followed, any one of which is perfectly decisive as to the condition of the poor. First, Sir, their present cottages are often of a most wretched description; "spurned indignant from the green," they are placed at a distance, so as to "screen the presence of contiguous pride;" miserably deficient in necessary accommodation, almost always destitute of a good and sufficient garden; in a word, the wretched inmates, and the hovels into which they are thrust, are 518 worthy of each other—miserable to the last degree. Secondly, and to this I call the most serious attention of this House and of the country, as an evil demanding an instant and effectual remedy, if there be any sense of decency or humanity left among us, these huts, miserable as they are, are rendered still more miserable by being deficient in number: there are not enough of them; hence more than one family are often thrust into the same dwelling, to the utter destruction of all peace, comfort, and decency. Sir, on this most important point I proceed to prove what I assert—namely, that we have, by the operation of causes which I have been enumerating, most cruelly diminished the accommodation for our poor labourers; and I shall do so, not by vague authorities, or opinions in pamphlets and books on political economy, but by authentic and indisputable facts, which at once decide the subject. I shall take the first county which is presented to us in the report, and which seems, on the testimony of one of the witnesses, to be well entitled to that bad pre-eminence—namely, Suffolk. Suffolk, Sir, has, in the course of 120 years, increased in population, including the great increase of some of its towns, as much as eighty per centum, and rather more. What has been the increase in the accommodation for the poorer part of the population? Why, Sir, in 1690, there were 47,537 houses in that county: in 1821, then, there ought to have been at least 90,000 houses. But, alas, Sir, there were in the latter year only 42,773 inhabited houses, the absolute number being eleven per cent fewer than 130 years before. The whole of the six counties so selected exhibit a result, in this respect, not quite so appalling, but sufficiently distressing, however regarded. Their population, had from 1701 to 1821, advanced upwards of seventy-five per cent, but the houses for its accommodation less than twenty-five. It is unnecessary to remark on what class the misery of such a state of things would be made to rest. Even in counties supposed by this Committee free from this state of things, "th' infection works." I hold in my hand the invaluable pamphlet of the Vicar of Alford, in Lincolnshire, who enumerates fifteen neighbouring parishes in which he found, on diligent inquiry, that the comfortable agricultural cottages demolished since 1770 amount to 176, and that nine only 519 have been built since that period. But to return to one of the former counties: I will present to this House, in the instance of a single parish, and that not one selected for the occasion, the facts and consequences of such a system. It is described in a letter from the Vicar of a place which I shall not name, but an extract from which I shall read to the House. It is situated in one of the disturbed districts. 'During the last forty years,' says the reverend Gentleman, 'four cottages only have been built by * * * *, and even these in lieu of the same number taken or fallen down. The accommodation for the poor is far more confined than it was some years past. The old parsonage, which I rebuilt when I came to the living, I found inhabited by four pauper families. There were also, a short time previously, five pauper families in two farm-houses, now occupied again by farmers. The want of room, therefore, has created the greatest difficulties to the Overseers, and has rendered their office peculiarly painful. For several weeks they have been compelled to quarter a poor family at the public house, two of the young men being under the necessity of sleeping in a barn. In some of the cottages the poor are so huddled together that the sight is most distressing, and the effect, of course, very demoralizing. The following is a specimen:—
Cottage. Families. Persons. Accommodation. No. 1 2 10 1 ground floor, 2 bed rooms. 2 2 8 1 room only 12 feet square. 3 2 7 1 room ground floor, 12½ ft. square. Two girls obliged to sleep on ground. 4 1 9 1 room ground floor, 1 bed room. 5 1 7 1 room only 12 feet square. 6 2 11 1 room ground floor, 2 bed rooms. 7 — 11 Different individuals, all females, except a youth of 18, and a young boy. 1 room
He goes on to say, 'Most of these cottages are in a sad state of repair; and all, with the exception of the two last, which are parish houses, belong to the lord of the manor.' He says that he made application to the non-resident proprietor (to whose intentional benevolence, however, he bears testimony), and to his agent, but could obtain no redress of this grievous state of things; as the latter had come to the determination (a very usual one) that not an additional cottage should be built—of course giving the orthodox reason for the refusal. I cannot refrain from quoting him a little further, as what follows has a most special reference to the only apology which can be urged for this mass of misery—a supposed surplus of numbers. 'The Overseers assure me,' he adds, 'that there are not more labourers than the cultivation of the land requires—nay, that should the use of the threshing-machine be discontinued, there would not be sufficient.' He proceeds to make some most pertinent and touching remarks upon this state of things, and its inevitable consequences, and concludes by suggesting a measure of relief, which I had long ago regarded as essential to any plan whatever which contemplates the bettering the condition of the poor—namely, a restoration of their cottages to some extent. He intimates that the condition of the poor in the neighbourhood is, at least, quite as bad, and must, sooner or later, produce the most lamentable and alarming consequences. Sir, I will beg the House to consider some of these consequences. Not only early and general depravity, but crimes of the most fearful nature are thus generated. But not to dwell, said he, on this horrid subject, what, I ask, must be the usual consequences, when different families are thus thrust into the same hole as a sleeping apartment; and, immorality out of the question, how can decency be preserved, especially under certain circumstances, in the family in such cases? But, Sir, I will pursue these revolting descriptions no further. Hurried away by my indignation at this cruel and indecent usage of the poor peasantry, I had almost forgot one revolting feature of the system of oppression to which they are now subjected. 521 For these accommodations, wretched as they are, the most exorbitant rents, exorbitant in reference to what they are worth (that is often, literally speaking, nothing) or for the little patch of garden ground when they have any, are exacted; a fact which has been fully verified both by agricultural reports and surveys, and by witnesses before your own Committees, and is fully known and undisputed. Indeed, it has necessarily happened, that the more the cottages have been diminished in number, the more have their rents been increased (a consequence which the economists themselves will allow to have been inevitable) till they have, at length, compared with every other species of property, become exorbitant, compelling the wretched tenant to resort to the parish for the means of paying them; leaving him, therefore, the disgrace of being a pauper, but, depriving him at the same time of the relief he should receive as such. I now come to another principal branch of the subject—namely, that which concerns the wages and employment of the poor. But on this point, important as it plainly is, time will compel me to be short. When the improvements, as they have been called (and might have been rendered), in the agricultural system took place, and the labouring classes were deprived of their little holdings, their commonage, and often their good gardens, they were told, that the demand for their labour would be so greatly increased, and its wages, consequently, so much advanced, that they would be infinitely better off under the new plan. But, Sir, it no longer admits of a dispute, that while they have thus been deprived of their independant labour, that which they yield to others is rendered, as far as possible less necessary and worse remunerated. In summer or harvest, as I have before shown, their work is indeed demanded; but it is to the winter, the trying season to the poor, that I am now about to advert. First, Sir, the altered practice of hiring servants by the week, instead of, as was formerly the case, by the year, has had a pernicious effect on the winter employment of the poor. The report I have so often alluded to, when referring to the northern counties as those in which the condition of the poor is still comparatively comfortable, should have stated (had the Committee known it), that this practice still prevails in the border counties of England, to the equal comfort and ad- 522 vantage of all parties. Secondly, the threshing-machine has, as far as possible, dispensed with a great part of the winter employment of the labourers, and, all the incidental expenses duly considered, without, as far as I have been able to calculate, any advantage whatever to the farmer, or to the public. I speak not thus as an apologist for the attacks that have been made upon this description of property; far otherwise; but with the hope of inducing the agriculturists to count well the costs before they sanction (where it is unnecessary) that which will inevitably distress and pauperise the poor. Lastly, and to this particular I would draw the attention of the House, as of infinite importance in any view of the causes of the distress of our rural poor—the improvements of the machinery of this country, and the consequent transference of the simplest processes of manufacture to the large towns of England, have had the inevitable result of depriving the female part of the cottagers' family of that profitable employment which presented itself, indeed, at every vacant hour throughout the year, but which secured to them a constant occupation in the winter season. A late Flemish writer exults in the circumstance of the winter cottage labour in that country being still preserved in great measure; and he attributes to that fact the comfort of their rural population. That is no longer the case in England, nor perhaps can ever be again. Let us, then, be the more anxious to consider how we may compensate this great and necessary class of the community for this connected series of deprivations and misfortunes, which have occasioned the misery which now overwhelms them. Thus, then, have our rural poor been successively deprived of every advantage which they formerly possessed, and of every chance of improvement which they once were so eager to avail themselves of. But I will no longer fatigue the House by these details. I may, however, be, perhaps, permitted to present in a single instance, and that not a selected one, the state to which I would draw the attention of the House. I have personally inspected the condition of the agricultural poor in some of the districts I have alluded to. I remember the last cottage I entered, and it was by no means the deepest picture of distress that might have been selected, on the contrary, there was nothing in it of peculiar disease, calamity, or sorrow. 523 In this I witnessed a fair but instructive example of the general state of many of the agricultural poor in that neighbourhood. All the furniture consisted of a few utensils for cooking, and a few three-legged stools, evidently of home make, and a large one of the same description, which answered the purpose of a table, and from which they took their meal. That meal was cooking, and it consisted of a few potatoes boiling over a handful of sticks. I went into the remaining apartment—I was about to call it a bed-room—but there was no bed; a few rags were lying upon a little straw in one corner, and there the whole family, several of whom were nearly grown up, rested without taking off their clothes. The wretched parent had no work, but the threshing-machine was resounding close at hand. I remarked, however, that he had a garden, though a small one; but I was soon told, that what I saw belonged to three cottages, and that his share was marked by a row of sticks, and it was certainly not the size of this floor. But I will not recapitulate the sad, but true complaints of this wretched peasant: his want of a garden and a pig. His father had a cow. There was no winter labour for either himself or family. His wife and his daughters (two females nearly full-grown) no longer wove lace, or knitted, or spun, as his mother and sisters had done. All was wretchedness and despair. On inquiry, I found his rent was 3l. 6s. per annum—one shilling was taken weekly, and the rest made up in the harvest months. He was, of course, like the rest of his poor neighbours, a pauper. The parish, however, employed him, but so as to insult him. He and others had to carry stones of a certain size backwards and forwards, a distance of about three miles, twice a-day. The land was evidently deteriorating for want of due cultivation; but, in the mean time, neither by the proprietors, nor by the farmers, could he be spared so much as a rood for a garden plot. He was perfectly stupified by his condition, and if he did not proceed to outrages which many others were committing in that neighbourhood, I speedily found that it was not because he was insensible to his sufferings, or at all afraid of the consequences of resenting their infliction. But I will not dwell upon the melancholy subject; this deplorable and desperate condition was that of the neigh- 524 bourhood—I fear, of the district; nor would I have alluded to the subject at all, but that I am firmly persuaded there are easy and effectual remedies for this strange and alarming state of things. What, then, are those remedies? Sir, the measure I am about to propose, is not, if I may so express myself, a tentative one, a plan of mere experiment: it is founded upon no new discoveries in human nature or policy; no novel or untried expedients; no distant or doubtful remedies. It does not contemplate to send off the thews and sinews of the country to the antipodes, the equator, or the pole, in search of relief. Nor does it include the locating of our labouring poor upon our waste lands, though that scheme, carried into practice to a certain extent, I hold to be a much wiser and patriotic scheme than many usually recommended regarding them. As a general plan of relief, I think it is, however, liable to some objections, which I shall not now state. The plan I propose contemplates to repair the injuries which our labouring poor have sustained in the scenes where they have been inflicted, to the equal advantage of every class of the community; and by means, as I hope to show, perfectly simple and practicable, and imposing, permanently considered, no burthen whatsoever upon us in its execution. Sir, there will be no novelty in any of my propositions, except that of requiring that Legislature, which has been, in some measure, an accessory to the injuries of the poor, to afford those facilities which shall render them universal, and the miseries of your agricultural poor, and the insubordination which they occasion, are at an end. First, I propose that a certain number of cottages should be rebuilt in those parts of the country where they are most wanted; which being the only part of the measure demanding an outlay worth a thought, I had for some time meant to have postponed, but after due consideration of the subject myself, and having had numerous communications with others most impressed with the present condition of the poor, I came to the conclusion that no plan whatever, for the relief of our agricultural poor, has the least chance of affording them any adequate relief, if this proposition be omitted. A cottage, according to a calculation I have made, might be erected, and have, at least, its rood of ground around it as a garden, and let to the cottager at 50s. per annum, and still pay a 525 higher interest than any other description of real, or even funded property among us. Still less would be the cost, were Government, without sacrificing any real income, to facilitate the measure as I shall hereafter suggest. Here there is accommodation of an infinitely superior kind to that now usually enjoyed, affording a rent which would allow ample reservations for repairs or other purposes, at one half, nay, one third, of the sum usually paid to the thoughtless sub-landlord, or griping speculator, whom the present system allows to live upon the poor-rates, rather than the pauper labourer whom he makes his agent for that purpose. The erection of even a very few of these cottages, where they are most needed, would not, I am hardly required to say, merely afford so many additional and improved accommodations to the degraded poor, and even in doing that, the benefit would be incalculable—but, Sir, these would inevitably have a most surprising and gratifying effect upon the rest, in improving the accommodations, and consequently, morals and comforts, of the poor; secondly, in greatly lessening their extortionate rents; and thirdly, in proportionally reducing the poor rates, a large part of which, in many places, goes to make good these infamous exactions. The difficulty of raising means, in this land of wealth and humanity, for so humble an effort, I will not for one moment regard. Four methods I have contemplated, all of which, I am confident, would be available, and any one of which would amply suffice for the purpose; but should those all fail, where would be the difficulty of Government, granting a small loan, secured by the respective parishes at the usual interest, which parishes would possess the property, to their own great and obvious advantage, as well as to that of the poor? For this plan, so important to the poor in every possible point of view, not one farthing then would be given, not one farthing risked by either the parish or the country. The second feature of my measure, Sir, is still more easy; it is this—the giving, or rather restoring, by the means, and in the manner I shall speedily point out, to the labouring poor, at least to those deserving and desirous of an advantage—gardens, not gratuitously, indeed, but at the full value at which the lands are let where they are situate, and no more. Sir, this simple restitution would effect of itself 526 wonders in their behalf; the revival of cottage horticulture would yield additional employment to the peasant, and especially at those seasons of the year when he is now often without it; it would increase his comforts, and go far to restore to him plenty at all seasons. By gardens, I mean not the barren and overshadowed patch that may be still sometimes left at the back or in front of some of the ruinous cottages of the country, sufficient, perhaps, to grow a shrub or two on which the wretched inmates can hang a few rags to dry:—such, Sir, only mock and tantalize the industry which they can neither excite nor reward. Such will, and ought to be, neglected. I mean by a garden, a good and sufficient garden. The circumstance of any of the cottagers of England being devoid of these, especially in the present condition of the country, would not be credited, were it not so notorious a fact as no longer to excite curiosity or remark. Certainly, such a circumstance, were we unacquainted with the real cause, would be attributed at once to the disinclination—nay, refusal—of the poor to avail themselves of the employment and advantages which horticulture affords. And, Sir, when we consider the state of the poor, their involuntary idleness and wretchedness, and the moral and political consequences of their condition, and know that this one pursuit would relieve them and the country of many of the evils under which both now labour—were the poor destitute of any wish to avail themselves of it, no national sacrifice could be too great, hardly any sum (burthened as the country is) too vast, could a decided taste for horticulture be purchased for our agricultural poor. Sir, the poor of England have this taste—passion, I may even call it, in them, for gardening, beyond any other people upon earth. Sir, what will they not do to gratify it, even now, when the in closures in every part of the country have rendered it almost impossible for them to find the means of gratification? Who has not seen the thousands of little strips which the poor labourers have taken in by the road sides in this country, the labour of inclosing which, estimated at the lowest wages, is often many times the amount of the worth of the narrow plot thus obtained; though the industrious peasants know that they are at any time liable to have their plot seized, and are certain that, at some time or other, it will be so? 527 Few of the poor, however, have the opportunity, or would have the permission, to obtain even this little advantage; it is true, the great farmer may allow them occasionally the temporary possession of a distant headland, on which to plant a few potatoes. But, Sir, this, wherever situated, is not the advantage I ask for this class; it is the garden, properly so called, which the husbandman can call his own, in which he can display his taste and cultivate as he pleases; and where, surrounded by his family, he labours not only for present but prospective advantages; where the feelings of hope and the consciousness of prosperity are alive within him, rendering him as happy as his master—feelings which, alas! are seldom gratified. But I will proceed upon this subject no further. The poor, every one must know, have the taste in question. They are fully aware of the pleasures and advantages attending its gratification; and they bitterly complain of having been dispossessed of the possibility of obtaining small spots of ground for cultivation. They have, in thousands of instances, besought their superiors to restore to them their garden, as in other days. They have constantly prayed for this great favour. It has been denied! "They mourn in their prayer and are vexed." Sir, I have here a calculation, made by one of the ablest of our agricultural writers, of the advantages, estimated in the most moderate way possible, of a good garden to the industrious labourer: but I have not time to enumerate them, interesting and important as they are. But I would not rest here. No advantages, however valuable, if indiscriminately extended, would fully answer the ends we ought to have in view regarding this class: nor, indeed, can any rank of society, no, nor any individual, whatever be his pursuit, be incited to those becoming exertions, on which human prosperity, individual and national, depends, without holding forth further adequate inducements and rewards to successful efforts. I would then propose, as a reward and distinction to the deserving poor, what would indeed be to them no empty honour, but the highest possible advantage, though still it would involve no pecuniary sacrifices whatever, I would propose to restore to such the opportunity of keeping a cow, on customary terms. These cottagers would have to be selected for their good conduct, industrious habits, 528 and honest endeavours to bring up their families without parochial relief. They would have to be admitted tenants of little intakes, or to depasture upon a general allotment, and they must have a meadow appropriated for the purpose of providing them with hay. Either of these plans might be adopted, and both of them have been so with great success; that, however, which gives the cottager his own share in severally is undoubtedly to be preferred. I have contemplated the difficulty which, in certain instances, the most deserving and industrious of our labourers would have in raising sufficient money for this purpose. This difficulty, however, is more apparent than real, and may be obviated, as I will on another occasion show, when I hope to enter more into the details, and less into the principle, of the measure, with equal advantage to all parties, A point far more material to mention is, that the measure contemplates securing the advantages proposed, whether for keeping the cow or the garden, at the current and usual terms of land of equal quality in the same district, and let by the same owners. And I am ashamed of acknowledging how necessary is this provision; otherwise that extortion to which the poor are now exposed would pursue them again. I have ascertained beyond all doubt, that in those few instances where the poor now obtain, or have been suffered to retain, the advantages in question, they too frequently pay for them, on the average, more than double what is demanded from the larger tenants in the immediate neighbourhood. If these advantages be secured to the little cultivator, I will engage for the effects. Happiness will be conferred upon the class in question, and their superiors will also be rewarded; for to the arguments which justice and generosity suggest, those which self-interest supplies may be fairly added. This plan would diminish the burthen of the poor-rates, now so heavily felt in many of the agricultural districts of this country; and this most important consequence, I proceed to shew, would take place, from instances in which a similar plan has been put into operation by means of private benevolence. The instance I shall first adduce is that which occurred in the parish of Long Newton, in the county of Gloucester, where the excellent and benevolent father of the present member for the University of Oxford, the late Mr. Estcourt, stated 529 that, out of 196 persons, thirty-two families, consisting of 140 persons, were poor, and indeed in the depth of extreme poverty, to use his own words. The poor-rates amounted to 324l. 13s. 6d. In order to extricate them from this state of misery and wretchedness, he adopted a plan in some respects similar to the one I now propose; and what have been the consequences? An immediate abatement in the misery of the poor; the most gratifying improvement in their character and morals; and a progressive diminution in the poor-rates down to 135l., in 1829 (the last year reported), amounting to 10d. in the pound only, on the valuation of the parish in 1815. In Skipton-moyne, an adjoining-parish, where the same course is pursued, I find the poor-rates have diminished between 1813 and 1829, from 367l. to little more than 209l. on the average of the last three years. In the small parish of Ashley, where the present excellent, member for Oxford University has also pursued the same course since 1812, I find that the poor-rates, which then stood at 89l. in the year 1813, have now dropped to 55l., or 10¼d. in the pound. In other parishes the same effect is taking place under the same auspicious direction. But, perhaps, it may be said, that every plan of benevolence, of whatever character or description, is found to answer under the warm and enthusiastic management of its patron. To show that this system of benevolence does not depend upon mere superintendence, I will, lastly, give another instance where the cottagers have been allowed these privileges for at least 200 years; for at that time an in closure took place, and the then owners had the good sense and humanity to reserve a small allotment for the purpose of letting it to the cottagers at moderate rates. A gentleman who communicated this fact to the Board of Agriculture, above thirty years ago, through Lord Winchilsea, says, as a natural consequence of such a system'—'We can, therefore, 'hardly say that there are any industrious 'persons here who are really poor, as there 'are in places where they have not this 'advantage.' This communication was made in 1796, and I have been anxious to see the effect of this system, imperfect as it is in some respects, on the poor-rates. I find that, on the average of the last seventeen years, namely, during the period in which we have had annual returns, the amount averaged 25l. 4s. 8d. only; or, on 530 the valuation of 1815, rather more than 4½d. in the pound; or perhaps 1d. in the pound on the value of the whole produce of the parish. Would the most parsimonious manager of the poor require a less demand upon the national or parochial funds than this? In two other instances, one a village in Lincolnshire, and another in Worcestershire, the same management has produced equally beneficial results. I had meant to have given some equally authentic proofs of the individual happiness this system creates wherever it has been partially introduced; but time will not admit. To the poor in particular, to use the language of a most intelligent correspondent of the Board of Agriculture, 'the advantage is so great, as to baffle all 'description.' May it be the business of this House, as it is its evident duty, to make that happiness universal! One other provision I would propose in favour of the poor in districts where it would be needed. I have said much of the want of winter labour for the poor, and of the depression of wages, and consequent pauperism and degradation which exists in consequence of this state of things in several parts of the country. Gardens for the whole, and homesteads for a part, of the labouring poor, would, I am convinced, do much, very much, to remedy these evils at once; perhaps, however, not enough to protect those from the pernicious custom, which degrades, in certain parts, the labouring poor, to whom work, after all, is bread. Employment might, therefore, in certain cases be still wanted, and, in far more, adequate remuneration for the employed, and these are objects, as I take it, very easy to be accomplished. The celebrated law of Elizabeth, I need not say, prescribed that labour should be furnished for the able but unemployed poor; and to effectuate this, it contemplated the establishing parochial manufactures on the domestic system. And this was then a wise and practicable plan, as most of the manufactures of the country, at least in their initial stage, were then pursued in the cottage. And see, Sir, what a vast and expensive task our ancestors undertook in their measure of providing employment for the poor. They contemplated the general advance of capital, the purchase of stocks whereon to employ the numerous unemployed poor, and that superintendence which was necessary for realising such a scheme. Compared with all this, the plan I should pro- 531 pose, would be easy, and the burthens it would impose upon the community would be indeed light. But to return; all the writers on this great subject, for at least half a century afterwards, such as Sir Joshua Child, Sir Matthew Hale, John Locke, and many others, placed their projects on the manufacturing basis, properly so called. The workhouses first erected in considerable numbers about a century ago, proceeded upon the same idea, and have led to greater evils, and occasioned a greater additional expense, in managing the poor, than any other part of the existing practice. Fully aware that they are occasionally well and humanely managed (and an exemplary instance occurs in the town where I reside), still, on the whole, the system is a crying evil, and demands immediate revision. Manufacturing labour (properly so called) being, therefore, totally out of the question, it follows, that what Montesquieu emphatically calls "the universal manufacture," the culture of the soil, is the only resource that remains for this important purpose, and happily for us it is of all others that which is most adapted to the peculiar wants and condition of the country. We have lands enough, and, as some contend, hands too many; surely, then, there can be no hesitation whether, or in what manner, we shall employ those whom we are otherwise compelled to sustain in idleness. The desiderata on this branch of the subject are these: first, to increase employment without improperly interfering with the general market of labour; secondly, to sustain at a just remunerating price the value of the labour of those who are willing and anxious to work for their subsistence; thirdly, to compel those to labour who would otherwise seek to be maintained in voluntary idleness. All these objects, each of which are so desirable, might be secured by taking a parochial allotment of land, and cultivating it by spade husbandry. To the employment thus created, the unemployed might and would repair; those also who were offered totally inadequate wages, such as would eventually send them to the parish to make them up to a living amount, would resort to the same lawful means of avoiding pauperism and oppression; and, lastly, those who wish to subsist without labour on the parochial funds, would be by this means prevented so doing. In 532 such a country as this, demanding as it does so enormous an importation of the necessaries of life, the only market of labour really interfered with by this plan would be that of foreign countries, and the only persons who would be otherwise than sensibly benefitted would be the idle and profligate paupers. I had prepared myself more particularly for this part of the measure, but the time is gone. The ease with which it could be executed, the certainty of its success, the employment it would create, and the wages it would distribute, principally at the seasons of the year when labour is not supposed to be the most scarce, the advantage to the parishes of the country and to the public at large, these formed a large part perspectively of the subject which I have this night brought before the House; but upon these topics, for the reason I have stated, I must not enter. I shall now proceed to the means by which I propose to put this measure into execution; and this also I must, for the same too obvious reason, touch upon with very inconvenient brevity. The necessary machinery, then, for executing this plan I would take, in the first place, from the parochial officers already appointed by law—the Churchwardens and Overseers of the poor, who are, as a body, a most useful and meritorious class; but I would not, however, resign the duty to them without control, as it might, and sometimes would, so happen in the country parishes, that they would have been parties to the mischiefs of which I have been speaking, and therefore not the most proper, or perhaps willing persons to remedy them. To them, therefore, I would add another important parochial functionary, to be created by law for this purpose, whose duty it would be to see, that the various provisions of the Act were truly and impartially carried into effect; conjointly with the present parochial officers, if that might be; but, if the latter should withstand the execution of the measure in the manner or spirit in which it is proposed to be carried into effect, then proceeding on his own authority, subject, however, to an appeal to the Quarter Sessions as to the propriety and fairness of his decision. This office would probably fall upon the resident, or, as he is sometimes called, the working clergyman, and, if so, from all I have witnessed or read in Committees or reports of this House, the better, generally 533 speaking, would it I think be for the poor. He was the individual contemplated in the Bill of the present Lord Chancellor when he proposed his benevolent measure touching education, to this House, which demanded local superintendence and management; but perhaps the appointment should not be thus fixed by law, but left to the parishioners, the poorest, however, in this case having their votes, or to the Magistrates of the division, as the farmers might overawe the poor in their choice; but this I leave to the wisdom of this House to determine. The office, by whomsoever undertaken, would be a thankless and unprofitable one, but its best and indeed high reward would be, the consciousness of largely administering to the public prosperity, as well as serving to an almost indescribable extent the deserving and industrious poor. Its conjoint duty would be, to select sites, and cause the erection of a certain number of cottages necessary for the decent accommodation of the labouring poor of the parish; to see that these and the cottages already in being had good and sufficient gardens attached to them, adjacent if possible, or at a convenient distance; if otherwise, to determine upon those labourers, according to the qualifications already stated, who shall have the advantage of keeping their cow, and to fix upon the conveniences for their so doing; to apportion, where such a measure would be found necessary, a plot of land as a work-field for the unemployed poor; and lastly, to ascertain that all these advantages were obtained at a current and reasonable rate as to rent. This officer I would denominate Guardian, or Protector of the Poor, investing him with powers to carry these propositions into effect, but imposing upon him no duty as to receiving or disbursing any of the sums required for realizing the measure. That this plan shall stand clear from a multitude of frivolous, or even from some real objections, is more than I anticipate. I defy, however, its opponents to advance any objections against the measure in the slightest degree comparable in magnitude to that of allowing things to remain as they are, to the utter destruction of the comforts and morals of the poor, and the imminent peril of the peace of society. I will only take up the further time of the House while I anticipate one of these, and it shall be that which I think will alone 534 be put forth, and worthy of a moment's consideration; it is that founded upon a rigid view of the rights of property. I will speedily dispose of this objection, so as to convert it into an argument in my favour, if there be any longer an honest intention to deal equally in matters of law and equity with the different ranks of society amongst us. In pleading for the restitution of the humble privileges of the poor as I have done, be it recollected that I have not asked for an indemnity for past spoliations, nor for any eleemosynary grants in lieu of them. I merely wish to put it to the House as a simple question of law and policy, whether the demand I make can be with the least colour of justice rejected. Sir, the rights of private property, ever since they have been recognized, have been made to give way to public necessity, or even convenience, not indeed by way of sacrifice, but for a reasonable compensation. Thus in the country the public road is projected, and when created, widened, shortened, or changed in its direction, or even a man's field broken into to obtain the necessary materials, whether in grass or tillage; the canal is dug, or the railway driven through an entire district, principally for the benefit of distant places and persons, so far interfering with the rights of property, and often inconveniently, in hundreds of parishes. In our cities whole streets are demolished, bridges erected, new approaches formed, nay, extensive alterations often carried into effect, whose sole apparent object is ornament and display; yet all of these demand, and on such terms as the law prescribes, the surrender of private property, and the often unwilling removal from their accustomed situations and established means of subsistence, of numbers of individuals. Now, I deny that while the object in any such instances, however proper in itself, is at all comparable in importance to the one at issue, however regarded, yet I maintain, that the liberty taken with property in any of these cases is infinitely greater than that which I propose; and yet that is never urged as a valid ground of objection against extensive and important improvements. Show me then an improvement in any one point of view at all comparable to that which promises to give happiness, peace, and prosperity to millions of the people; which would beautify instead of deforming the face of the country; which would increase 535 its value and multiply its resources; in a word, which should restore to the poor, and upon just and adequate terms, the privileges which they once gratuitously possessed, and without which it is impossible that they should subsist in comfort, or continue in peace, and which would effectuate all this by the slightest possible sacrifice—by none whatever, indeed, when properly computed. Sir, I would fain hope that in this House the condition of the poor will still meet anxious consideration—that here their wrongs will find redress. The suggestions of private benevolence, aided indeed by the soundest views of policy and interest, have long been urged in vain; their wrongs have gone on increasing, and will never be redressed except this House interfere. Let it do so then, and without delay. Let wealth allow that poverty which incessantly labours for its benefit, a comfortable abode wherein to rest. Let those who demand their summer toil, give them the means of employment and subsistence in the winter season; let the cry of them that reaped our fields come up before the Lord of the harvest, that Deity who is no respecter of persons, or, if he be, who is the respecter of the poor and needy. If feelings of justice and gratitude no longer sufficiently prevail, let those of just apprehension and of awakened fear be added. Recollect the mighty power with whom we have to deal. Like another Sampson we may deem it blind, and doomed to grind at the mill for our pleasure and convenience, but let the economists and politicians take care how they sport much longer with its awakened feelings, lest the spirit of vengeance and of strength return upon it, and it bow itself mightily against the pillars of your unrighteous system, and destroy the social structure, though itself perish in its ruins. But, Sir, I hope and believe that this House will listen to the suggestions of kindness and benevolence;—that it will support a measure which demands the permanent sacrifice of none of the property of the country, but which, on the contrary, would greatly lighten the burthens it now sustains, and, above all, would give prosperity and peace to our rural poor. Let the House, then, assume its noblest character, that of the protector of the poor, and, seeing that the suggestions of humanity, and the dictates of policy have been long disregarded, let the 536 law once more interpose its sacred shield, and protect the defenceless and the wretched from the miseries which they have too long endured. With these observations, I beg leave to move to bring in a Bill, having for its object, to better the condition of the labouring poor.
ground floor; 1 bed room 8 — 9 Different individuals.'
said, he seconded the Motion with great pleasure, as he hoped it would lead to beneficial results. He believed and hoped the hon. Gentleman was generally correct in the views he had taken, but there was one point in which he in some degree differed from him. He could not altogether agree with the hon. Mover in the view taken of the effects of large enclosure acts. He believed that great benefit had often arisen to the poor from the in closure of waste lands, inasmuch as it had made that which was previously of little value, worth much more by the labour which had been employed upon it, and by these means, as well as by capital laid out upon it by the proprietors in the vicinity, who were interested in its improvement by the additional value which thereby attached to their former properties; the land in such situations was rendered more useful and productive. Another question, however, in which he fully concurred with the hon. Mover was, that there was little doubt but that, were the labour upon our farms done solely by English labourers, there would be no redundancy of the labouring population felt. There was as little doubt, too, that one of the severest evils this class experienced was in the deficiency of houses and cottages for the poor in respect of number. Much comfort and health would result from a fair and proper apportionment of garden ground to each tenement. The garden ground should not be so large that it would afford occupation altogether to the labourer, so as to render him independent enough to decline hiring out his services upon the farms in the neighbourhood. It was difficult to say whether the object could be in this instance best accomplished by the interference of Government itself, or by the voluntary efforts of land proprietors, throughout those counties to which allusion had been so feelingly made by the hon. Mover.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that he entirely concurred—as, unfortunately, he was obliged to do—in the hon. member for Aldborough's description of the distress 537 of the poor; and he had been very anxious to hear what the remedies were which the hon. Member proposed to alleviate that evil. Those remedies, as he understood, were to give habitations to the labouring poor, and to attach small portions of ground to them as gardens. He was inclined to think, that providing small gardens to be cultivated by the poor was a desirable thing; but he thought that benefit could not be so well attained by legislative enactment as by private arrangement. The mode in which the hon. Member intended to effect his object—namely, by an Act of Parliament—appeared to him not to be free from considerable difficulties. At the same time, as the hon. Member had bestowed such pains on all matters connected with this subject, he thought ft desirable that the House should agree to give him leave to bring in his Bill. The Bill would then be placed on the Table and printed, and hon. Members and the country would have an opportunity, before another Session, of considering how the law would operate.
expressed his gratitude to the hon. Member for Aldborough for the pains which he had taken with this subject. He doubted, however, whether the hon. Member had explained the whole cause of the mischief to which he had directed the attention of the House. The hon. Member had represented the condition of the peasantry of this country to be one of great depression and degradation. He admitted, with regret, that in some parts of the Kingdom their condition was deplorable; but that was not the case in all parts of the country. There was a marked and distinct difference between the condition of the peasantry in the orthern and in the southern portion of the country. He believed that the cause of the depression of the poor in the southern part of the country was the abuse and mal-administration of those laws which were intended to protect and support them. To provide a remedy, then, for these evils it was necessary to go back to those laws, amend them where they were defective, and, above all, provide for a due administration of them. He should have hailed the speech of the hon. member for Aid-borough with unmingled pleasure, but for the hard terms with which he was pleased to assail the political economists of the day. To have held that class of persons up to the detestation of the country, as 538 ungifted with the sympathies of humanity, was not following the candid course which he should have expected from his hon. friend. He agreed with him as to the necessity of affording better habitations for the poor; although he was of opinion with the hon. Member who spoke second, that it would be a very great evil to increase them to too great an extent. Upon the question of redundancy he should not say one word. He believed the laws of population being imposed by nature had best be left to themselves. He might observe, however, that if the Poor-laws were so administered as to place the married man in a better situation than the single man, they did interfere with the natural check to redundancy which would otherwise exist. With regard to the proposition for making allotments of small portions of land to cottagers, there could not be the least objection to it; on the contrary, it was now universally admitted, that the adoption of a general measure of this nature would be most beneficial. Not merely a feeling of benevolence and humanity would dictate the course marked out by his hon. friend, but even when the matter was regarded as a question of self-interest, the inducement was strong to embrace the measures he recommended. If the poor man had his small piece of land to cultivate, a powerful stimulus was held out to his industry, and he was raised from his present depressed condition, which had, in many parts of the country, completely demoralized and debased the character of the peasantry. By adopting this course, the poor-rates would, in a short time, be reduced materially, and thus a service would be rendered both to the landlord and the tenant. Nothing could be more absurd or pernicious than to suppose that it could be beneficial to the landlord or tenant that there should be a high poor-rate and a low rate of wages. He entreated the attention of the House for a few minutes to a paper relative to the local taxation in three of the southern and three of the northern counties of England. In the southern counties the bad system had been acted upon of placing the labourers upon the poor-rates, and making an allowance in proportion to the man's family; and in some of these counties the poor-rates were, according to the official returns, more than double, and sometimes triple the amount of the rates assessed upon the parishes in the northern counties 539 of England. This was particularly the case in Sussex, where the system prevailed to the greatest extent, and where the condition of the peasantry was worse than in any other county in England. He would ask any one, who had any doubt on this subject, to refer to the evidence taken before the Committees of 1824 and 1829, who were appointed to inquire into the condition of the agricultural poor. From the returns it appeared, that in the county of Sussex the amount of poor-rates, measured by the property-tax of 1815, was 6s. 9d. in the pound, in the county of Bedford it was 6s. 2d., in the county of Buckingham it was 5s. 5d., in the county of Kent it was 5s. 8d., and in the county of Suffolk 5s. in the pound. Now for the counties in which no such abuses had existed. In the county of Northumberland the poor-rates were but 1s. 7d. in the pound, in the county of Westmoreland 2s. 4d., in the county of Cumberland 2s. 1d., and in the county of Salop 2s. 4d. Thus, taking the average of the rates in the counties where the system prevailed, and that of the other counties he had mentioned where it did not, it appeared, that the poor-rates on the latter were not quite equal to one-fourth of what they were in the former. And independent of this great difference in the rates, the difference in the comforts and happiness of the poorer classes of the two districts was most striking. It was now generally admitted that, in proportion as the wages were good, so would be the conduct of the labouring classes. The system of reducing the rate of wages to the lowest possible grade, had done more to demoralize and corrupt the lower classes of this country than all other circumstances together. The only way to remedy the evils which prevailed in the southern parts of England was, to restore the peasantry of those parts to the same condition of independence as the peasantry of the north, to go gradually back to the original administration of the Poor-laws, and let the labourer work out his own independence. The gentlemen of England were interested in the highest degree in promoting any measure for the amelioration of the condition of the peasantry, and, unless effectual steps were taken, not only would the poorer classes continue to suffer from privation, but the higher and middle ranks of society would also be materially injured. A subject of greater importance than the present, 540 namely, the removing the abuses of the Poor-laws, and the promoting the welfare of the labouring classes, could not be pressed upon the attention of the Legislature. He rejoiced, therefore, that the hon. member for Aldborough had brought forward his motion, and although he did not agree in all points with him, he should be happy to give his humble assistance in any endeavour to remove those evils and errors in the administration of the Poor-laws; and this might be done by returning to the Poor-law in its original enactments and in its spirit.
§ Colonel Torrens
was understood not to offer any opposition to the introduction of the Bill. He would not follow the hon. member for Aldborough through the details of his plan, for he thought it would be as useless to discuss the causes of, or the remedies for, the distresses of the labourers, with a Gentleman who disclaimed all knowledge of the science which treats of the condition of the people, as to argue about grammar with the professor who should avow his ignorance of the theory of language, or about an operation in surgery with a man who boasted his contempt for the study of anatomy. The hon. Member seemed to imagine that he had made a valuable discovery in the laws which regulated the increase of the human species, and which he appeared to think should be compared to the discoveries of a Galileo or a Newton. The hon. Gentleman had found out that a small population would increase much more rapidly than a large one; that was, that 200 persons would increase much more rapidly than 400. He certainly could not compliment the hon. Member on the result he had arrived at, for, had he extended the analogy a little further, he would have arrived at a most extraordinary conclusion. He did not intend to offer any opposition to the introduction of this Bill, but he certainly should, if it were persisted in next Session, endeavour to point out some of the inconveniences that would result from many parts of it.
§ Mr. Briscoe
felt called upon to make a few observations on this subject, to which he had paid considerable attention. He was not unfriendly to the principles of political economy, but they had been erroneously applied to the present question. Many who were most anxious to improve the condition and add to the comforts of the labouring population of this country, 541 were opposed to the proposition for giving small detached portions of land to the peasantry, on the ground that it would tend to multiply and increase their number. Now, as far as his experience went, and his knowledge was more of a practical than of a theoretic nature, the result was of a directly contrary description. In proportion as the comforts of the labouring classes were increased, they were made less reckless of the consequences of their conduct; and a spirit of industry was excited, and the desire which was so fruitful in man, of bettering his condition, was increased. In what country in the, world had population increased more rapidly than in Ireland? And had not that arisen from the dependence and low condition of the peasantry, who were aware that, by no exertions of their own, could they better their condition? Although, therefore, he could not give his approbation to all the plan of the hon. Member, he should be most favourable to any proposition for apportioning small pieces of land to the cottages of the labouring poor. The system of paying wages out of the poor-rates had had a most pernicious effect upon the morals and character of the peasantry of the parts of the country in which it had prevailed. He held in his hand the reports of the Overseers of two large parishes, situated in the county which he had the honour to represent, of the state of the, poor in those parishes. He should like to be in possession of such documents relative to the condition of the labouring classes in all parts of the country; for, by means of the in formation to be derived from such papers as these, the Legislature would be able to arrive at a much more correct conclusion than it now could do as to the real stale of the people. He had received a number of similar reports from the Overseers of other large parishes in the county of Surrey, and they all confirmed the conclusions he derived from them. In the first, of those parishes there were between ninety and a hundred married, and between fifty and sixty single labourers; the number of persons receiving relief from the parish in winter was fifty-live; and of these, forty were constantly dependent on the poor-rates for support. The amount paid in poor-rates was, in summer, about 30l. a month, and in winter 50l. In this parish there were from ten to fifteen labourers who had small pieces of land annexed to their cottages. In the other parish the proportions in every respect 542 were higher, and the condition of the labouring classes was worse, and there was this additional circumstance, that in not a single instance was a portion of land annexed to the cottage of a poor man. Not only the happiness and well-being of the peasantry would be promoted by a measure, having for its object the allotting small portions of land to the agricultural labourers, but also the landowners and farmers would be gainers in the great improvement that would take place in the morals and character, and habits of industry, of those classes. He regretted that the bill which was introduced by the Duke of Richmond into the other House, relative to the, condition of the poor, and which was now on the Table of this House, could not be passed into a law before the prorogation. He regretted that the laudable example of the Sussex landowners, who entered into associations for the purpose of giving small portions of land to the peasantry, and for other measures to improve the condition of the poor, had not been followed in other parts of the country. He trusted that the example would not be lost on the gentry of the county he had the honour to represent, and he was determined to give his best exertions to form such associations in those districts with which he was connected. He was convinced that this object would be much better effected by private arrangement amongst country gentlemen, than by any legislative enactment. It was most painful to the Magistrates to have continual applications made to them by able-bodied labourers, both married and single, who were both able and willing to work, but, not withstanding all their exertions, were unable to procure it. If each family were allowed a small patch of land, parishes would be exempt from those distressing cases which were now continually occurring. He trusted that effectual steps would be taken without delay, and that, a large distribution would be made of land, which was at present uncultivated, to the agricultural population of the country. If active measures were not taken at once, the whole character of our peasantry would be deteriorated, and only a multitude of paupers would remain.
was anxious something should emanate from Government, to show to that class of the people to whom allusion had so eloquently been made by the hon. Mover, that the Government was 543 desirous to alleviate and remedy, in part, at least, the effects of a highly injudicious system of dispensing the Poor-laws in the south of England. The subject was one which must at last be taken up by Government itself. The measures of Mr. Sturges Bourne had done much at the time; but Government must again interfere, and that shortly. He was grateful to the hon. Mover for the attempt to introduce the Bill he had described, and prefaced with so eloquent a descant on the acknowledged inconveniences and sufferings of the labouring poor; and though it was too late to expect the Bill should go through the House this Session, the introduction of the subject could not fail to be productive of benefit to this most interesting class of the people.
expressed his approval of the measure proposed by the hon. Member, and said he was of opinion that, unless something were speedily done to relieve the sufferings of the poor, evils very affecting and serious in their consequences must soon occur. He regretted that this measure had not been made to occupy the attention of Parliament at an earlier stage of the Session; it would then have been received with more satisfaction, and obtained a degree of attention more commensurate with its importance.
§ Mr. John Campbell
, in answer to an observation which had fallen from the hon. member for Aldborough (Mr. Sadler), said, that the maxim which had been quoted from Lord Bacon—namely, that in all alterations of the allotments of land, the rights of the people should be carefully preserved—was strictly attended to. Those rights had been most sacredly attended to in all Inclosure Acts. If what the hon. member for Aldborough had stated were the fact—if the poor were oppressed and deprived of their rights under those Acts, then, surely, the hon. Member ought to become a Reformer in order to assist them in recovering that of which they were said to be unjustly deprived. Where a man possessed a little garden, or had the privilege of depasturing a cow, here he admitted there was a right which ought to be protected: but he would ask, when gipsies took up their residence on a common, to the annoyance of the surrounding neighbourhood, did their sojourn give them a right which ought to be protected? In different parts of the country an idea prevailed, that if a hovel were erected and afire 544 lit in it, the individual who performed these acts obtained a right to the soil. But such a principle was wholly contrary to law, and its fallacy ought to be generally known.
§ Mr. George Robinson
entirely approved of the proposed measure. It related to a subject which, though so long in making its appearance, was of great interest and importance to every Gentleman in that House, He had no doubt the hon. Gentleman would obtain his Bill; he hoped he would, and he trusted that at an early stage of the next Parliament, the Government would take it into its immediate consideration, and propose such amendments as were necessary; for he did not think the measure of the hon. Gentleman likely to supply more than a very partial remedy to a very general evil. That something ought to be done, and that speedily, the House must agree with him. No situation, of any' amongst the most unfortunate of human beings, was more pitiable than that of the poor honest man, who was willing and anxious to work for his bread, but was forced to submit to the degradation of subsisting in idleness upon a pittance below that of felons. The poor deserved the attention of that House, and that House was bound to afford it them. Before he concluded, he wished to call the attention of the House to a circumstance which he must consider a reproach to them. It had long happened that in this House the attention of the Members of the Government was engrossed, until nearly the close of every Session, by some one great measure, which left them neither time nor energies sufficient to enable them to proceed with matters even of the most vital importance to the interests and well-being of society. He hoped, however, that early in their next meeting the Government would take into consideration some comprehensive and complete measure for the relief of the present great hardships under which the poor were labouring.
§ Mr. Daniel Whittle Harvey
said, that when the hon. and learned member for Stafford stated that no inclosure bill was passed which did not contain a provision to protect the rights of the poor, the hon. and learned Member forgot to state how that provision was carried into effect. There was, in each inclosure bill, an enactment, imposing on the Commissioners the duty of dealing with the property. They were either to let out the property itself, or, if it was sold, they were to in- 545 vest the money produced by the sale in the public funds. Still it was true, that the rental derived from the one course, or the interest which accrued from the other, was misapplied. Many individuals, who had claims upon property of this kind, were, at the present moment, receiving little or no benefit from it. The amount of the rental, or of the interest were not given to those who were struggling for independence—who were anxious to escape from being placed on the parish books. If, was carried to the general fund, to relieve the landed proprietors, instead of being granted to those to whom it really belonged. Against the advance of money by Government there were a thousand reasons, political and fiscal. Little benefit could be derived from the advance of 100,000l., which, in its commiseration, the public might be willing to grant; but immense good might be effected by pursuing the inquiry which was now going forward, and which, he hoped, would rescue millions of money, applicable to the relief of the poor, from the situation in which it was at present placed. The hon. member for Oxford had regretted that, even in the present Session, a measure had not been brought forward to soothe the feelings of the people. Such a measure had been brought forward—such a measure would be again brought forward—he spoke of the measure of Parliamentary Reform, which was, as regarded the people of this country, infinitely more powerful and infinitely more beneficial than any measure on the subject of the Poor-laws that had ever emanated from either side of the House.
§ Mr. Hunt
felt greatly indebted to the hon. Member who brought forward this subject. He totally differed from the hon. Member who spoke last, for he was of opinion that this subject was of much more importance to the people than the Reform Bill. It was a delusion to hold out that the poor would derive any benefit from the Reform Bill. He was sure, that even the anticipation of such a measure as that now proposed would give comfort to the people. He had received a letter last week from a clergyman in the country, stating, that in his parish there was a family consisting of twelve persons living in one apartment, thirteen feet square; a man, his wife, two daughters and their husbands, and six children. Was there anything so miserable as that even in Ireland? It was to be lamented that the hon. Member 546 should have had the mortification of addressing his excellent speech to a House not containing many more than fifty Members. If the Slave-trade had been under discussion the benches would have been filled, but the condition of the peasantry of England excited little sympathy. If his Majesty's Ministers had sent down Commissioners to inquire into the cause of the burnings instead of inquiring into the boundaries of boroughs, they would have saved hundreds from transportation. The poor were driven to thievery and roguery by the bad treatment which they have experienced. He begged to call attention to some regulations made in the year 1822, in the county of Wilts, and which demonstrated that the agricultural labourers were then in the most wretched condition. The allowance for a labouring man, his wife and two children, was from 4s. to 5s. 6d. a week, or a gallon of flour and 4d. per head were allotted to those persons, according to circumstances, and thus were these unfortunate people left without lodging, clothing, or fuel, and nothing given them but a bare allowance of bread, not equal to half the allowance given to a felon. Where the children increased in numbers, the allowance per head was reduced. Was it then a matter of surprise, when starvation had driven these people to madness and despair, that they looked upon their landlords with enmity and upon the operation of the laws with horror, and that the public should not consider themselves safe from the re-action of such deplorable circumstances? He thought the great danger to which the country was exposed, arose from the situation and condition of these people, and he hoped that something efficacious would be done to remedy it.
§ Sir Thomas Baring
said, the document alluded to by the member for Preston never regulated the price of labour in the county of Wilts. The only object of these regulations was, to make some provision for the surplus unemployed population. The wages at the time they were made were 8s. or 9s. a-week. The hon. Member was mistaken in supposing that such regulations gave rise to the late disturbances in Hants. He went, as a Magistrate, for the purpose of dispersing one of the meetings, and arresting some of those concerned. The meeting consisted of 1,500 persons, most of them fellow parishioners of his, and there was not one of them out of work, and not one who had 547 not a good cottage. In fact those were most forward at the meeting who were best off. One of them, the leader in breaking his machines, was a carpenter who had worked for him twenty-five years, and never earned less than 25s. a-week. His gardeners also, who had good wages, left their work and joined the rioters. When asked afterwards what their reasons were, they said they could give none—that it was infatuation. That was sufficient to show that the disturbances did not originate in the cause mentioned by the member for Preston.
§ Mr. John Weyland
begged also to return his thanks to the hon. member for Aldborough for the manner in which he had brought this subject forward. He was persuaded that he had not exaggerated the miserable condition of the labouring classes in England. It was such as every humane man must deeply lament. No doubt much of the misery of the poor arose from the altered state of society, by our becoming a manufacturing from an agricultural country. He fully agreed with him, that it was the absolute duty of the Government to endeavour, if it could, to restore to the poor man his former advantages either in substitute or in kind. His hon. friend proposed to restore them in kind, and he went with him to the full extent of his wishes, although he must confess, that he did not think his measure would effect all the relief he anticipated. The poor man could never be comfortable unless there was full employment for his labour. He carried to market a strong arm and a willing mind, and expected in return a comfortable subsistence. The only effectual remedy, then, for the distress of the poor man was, by a proper system of legislation, to encourage the capitalist to employ him to a greater extent than he now did. No pains bestowed on this subject could be bestowed in vain; for any improvement in the condition of the labouring classes was not merely beneficial to them, but highly advantageous to all the higher classes. What induced him as much as anything else to vote against the Government of the Duke of Wellington, nearly as much, perhaps, as his refusal of Reform, was, although he came there inclined to support him, the answer of the right hon. member for Tamworth, when asked whether it was intended to institute any inquiry into the condition of the labouring classes, he answered that question by saying, that nothing could be 548 done—that they should only embarrass themselves—and that it would be useless to excite expectation. That was not the answer that ought to have been given. The present Government had come into office under a pledge that they would inquire. But it would be unreasonable, fully occupied as their time had been by the Reform Bill, to expect that they could now bring forward a well-considered measure. They were about, however, to have a period of repose, and he doubted not that they would turn their minds to this subject. It was most essential that they should do so, for he was satisfied that the consequences would be dangerous, if some effective measure for the relief of the lower classes was not brought forward.
§ Mr. Attwood
stated, his hon. friend did not say, that it was the design of the hon. member for Aldborough to inflame the people; but he did say that his speech had a tendency to do it. If there could be a speech calculated to convince the poor that a careful regard to their interest and rights was had in that House, it was the speech of the hon. member for Aldborough. The hon. and learned member for Stafford denied the legal existence of the rights of the poor; he who asserted those rights was charged with exciting the people to discontent, instead of that charge being laid upon him who denied them. This was a subject of great and paramount importance—of an importance infinitely superior to that upon which this House had been so recently and so long engaged. He could not refrain from expressing his satisfaction at witnessing the House of Commons, at length, resuming its proper duties and its proper business—that of inquiring into the situation of the people—that of looking into the state of the country. If that state was such as it was described to be by the hon. member for Aid-borough, by the hon. member for Preston, by the hon. Member who spoke last, and such as no one had denied it to be, it presented a scene of misery, suffering, degradation, pauperism, and crime, which could not long exist with security to any interest. This was the real subject of paramount importance, for although the other was described to be so, it. was not a subject peculiarly adapted to the present state of the country, or which, in the present emergency, could relieve existing distress. He did not intend to open afresh the debate on Reform; but taking the late Bill to be all that was said of it by its 549 friends, would it have relieved the people? Yet were the people labouring under a dangerous delusion in that respect, which it became every honest man in that House, of whatever party he might be, to endeavour to dissipate. Would any man say, that that Bill could have relieved the distresses of the poor, or indeed, have been of service to any man? No, it was useless. If the state of the people was such as was I described, ought the exclusive labour of the House of Commons to have been directed to a speculative system of improvement, which at some future period might be of benefit, but which could not affect the existing generation? Whilst they were discussing the speculative improvement, the present generation might die of famine, and that which was to come to enjoy the benefit of this improvement, be bred up in pauperism and in crime. In the course of the Debate of last night it had been said, that the people were under the guidance of dangerous leaders, and that the remedy was, for hon. Members to become the leaders of the people. No doubt they should be; but what was the method pointed out by which they were to become so? By telling them that they might have confidence in the Representatives of fifty counties and of all the great towns. But were men, whose children were perishing for want of bread, to reckon the counties that sent Representatives to that House, which had exhibited a spectacle of non-attention to their crying sufferings rarely seen? If the House desired to lead the people, and have their confidence, it must inquire patiently and deliberately into the causes of their distress, and make that their first business. One of the expressions of the Prime Minister, when he first came into office, was, that an hour should not elapse without an inquiry being instituted into the condition of the people, with a view to their relief. They ought to inquire till the means of relief were found, or till they had the melancholy satisfaction of determining that the cause of the evil was beyond their reach. That was the course by which they might assuage the troubled waters of discontent. He did not despair that, the debate of that night, exhibiting to the people, as it would, the spectacle of the House of Commons engaged in an inquiry suggested by his hon. friend, in a speech full of philanthropy, eloquence, and philosophy, would go far to convince them that the House cared for their interests, and would go a 550 thousand times further than the Debates which had lately excited and agitated hon. Members as well as others.
§ Sir Charles Wetherell
thanked his hon. friend (Mr. Sadler) for the motion he had brought forward. He did not, however, blame the present Government for not originating it. He hoped his hon. friend would persevere, and not resign the subject into other hands. No man was more capable than himself of prosecuting it with success. Let the House and the country bear in mind, that while the borough of Aldborough, the unfortunate nomination borough, was hooted and hunted down—while the Government and the House of Commons were wasting four or five months in barren speculation, his hon. friend, who represented that calumniated borough, was employing his weeks and months in laborious and diligent inquiry, to prepare himself for bringing forward this important Motion. He defied them to show any county Member, any Member for a town, however large, who could surpass, or even equal, his hon. friend in the industry, the ability, the information, the resources of heart or understanding, which he displayed on this occasion. The hon. Baronet (Sir T. Baring) told them, that some of the misguided men concerned in the recent disturbances, when asked their reason for taking a part in them, said they did not know—that they were infatuated. It would, ere long, be the same with Reform; and when those who were now so strongly excited should be asked the cause, their answer would be the same—they did not know what they were doing—they were infatuated. The agitation they had witnessed for Reform arose somewhat from the same spirit that exhibited itself in the more formidable risings of last winter, and as then, when asked the cause of this dissatisfaction, the same negative answer would be given by the people. They knew nothing of the advantages they would obtain from Reform. They were perhaps in want of bread, perhaps in want of clothing; they were perhaps in deep distress, and for these evils, his hon. friend the member for Aldborough proposed an efficient remedy; but the Ministers, whose business it was to remedy these evils, were hunting after the applause of noisy political assemblies, and they only proposed to cure hunger and cold, that the Parliament should be reformed. To the people, Reform could be of no use, and in fact, they would be as satisfied by the 551 loss of the Reform Question, as they would have been by gaining it. It was a great injustice to accuse his hon. friend of an intention to cause a rising amongst the people. It was not usual for Tories like his hon. friend, for the Representatives of these decayed and scanty boroughs, to disseminate in that House, or elsewhere, opinions on the subject of the comforts of the poor, in such a manner as to be chargeable with spreading anything like dissatisfaction; that was not a Tory vice. That, however, was the only defect the hon. and learned member for Stafford was able to find in the plan of his hon. friend. With respect to his objections to his hon. friend speaking of the rights of the poor, he must beg to inform the hon. and learned member for Stafford, that he did not use them in the strict and narrow sense in which they were interpreted in Maule and Selwyn's reports; or, according to the definition that would be applied to those rights in the Court of King's Bench. His hon. friend spoke of the rights of the poor in that civil, political, moral, and religious sense, in which they must always be spoken of in every civilized community. He did not say, that those rights had been invaded by the system of inclosures, but he did say, that if in its progress more attention had been paid to the practical amelioration of the condition of the poor, they would not have been in the state they now were. The hon. member for Colchester had truly observed, that there had been cases where the possession of land ought to have been specifically and directly secured to the poor. He did not propose to enter at large into all the topics introduced by his hon. friend, but he was of opinion, that the two main principles he had contended for, had been completely established by him. It would be a great advantage to cheapen the cottages of the poor. They were fifty or perhaps 100 per cent too dear. This, with a small allotment of land, would be a great benefit. The rights of the poor ought to be better secured in all future inclosures. Let it go forth to the public, and let it be remembered, that often as the Duke of Newcastle's name had been heard in that House, bandied about from one hon. Member to another, and by some members of the Cabinet too, vilified, cried down, reverberated as it were from the depths of Cacus's cave, as the owner of the nomination borough of Aldborough—let it be remembered, that 552 while Government could spare no time from their speculations to attend to this philanthropic plan, it was digested, prepared, and ably brought forward by the member for the close borough, the rotten borough, of Aldborough. When the tumult and agitation now excited by those who called themselves the friends of the people had ceased, when the people were allowed to take breath and reflect a little, they would inquire, not who represented the largest town, who had the most constituents, but who brought forward plans most likely to prove beneficial to the country.
said, the true source of the evil was, the want of capital, without which the working classes could not possibly have adequate employment. Now, the Question of Reform came directly home to this point, for what caused the want of capital but the overwhelming load of taxes laid on by those insatiable monsters, the boroughmongers? To this it was owing that the poor-rates, which in the time of George 3rd were only 700,000l. had increased to 7,000,000l.
§ Mr. Sadler
wished to notice a few of the observations which had fallen from the hon. member for Leicester, without mingling political considerations with a subject it was most desirable to keep clear of. With respect to the hon. Member's statement of the amount of the poor-rates at the beginning of the reign of George 3rd, did he not know, that the returns upon which he founded his assertion were acknowledged to be inaccurate? It was matter of historical notoriety that they were, at the time they were made, thrown aside as utterly useless. There was, however, a document drawn up in the reign of Charles 2nd, by a man of great talents and industry, from which it appeared that the poor-rates then amounted to 800,000l., or half the revenue of the country. He would challenge the hon. Member to deny the fact, that the cost of sustaining the poor had, in reference to every other branch of expenditure since then, constantly exhibited a diminishing ratio. Since our returns upon this subject had been more perfect, this fact had been clearly established; and it appeared from them, that every individual who now paid 9s., a few years back paid 13s. He would cast no reflection upon true political economy, but upon that spurious political economy which laboured to deteriorate the condition of 553 the poor, which constantly attacked the feelings so beautifully described by the hon. member for Colchester, which sought to abridge the rights and privileges of animal existence, whilst it protected the rights of the rich. That sort of political economy he should always attack. As to his having obtruded any theories of his own upon the House, he could only say, that he had never done more than refer to matters of fact, which were open to all alike. He was to be set right, as the hon. and learned member for Stafford thought, on a point of law; but he conceived, notwithstanding that hon. and learned Member's illustration of legal technicalities, that he was right, and the hon. Member wrong. He spoke the language of the highest law authorities—not his own. None of the facts he had brought forward had been impugned. It could not be denied, that the ploughshare now made its way where once stood the bower of content, the site of which was now only marked by a few flowers twining up the fence, memorials of humble domestic happiness. It could not be denied that, in many instances, the poor had no habitations in which to dwell. How could the expense of erecting them be objected to, when the rental of the village, which the clergyman he had referred to mentioned, was 700l. a-year? Four or five additional cottages would make all the difference between each family having its own dwelling, and several now living together in that crowded state, which always rendered decency, and sometimes even morality, impossible. The cost of building these cottages, compared with the amount of happiness they would occasion, was so small, that he could not think the Government or the country would refuse to grant the trifling boon now asked. They must remember how large a portion of the revenue of the country came from the poor, before they thought a trifle like this too much to grant them. Something was said by the hon. member for Leicester about the poor being rendered comfortable, only through the means of high profits to the manufacturer and agriculturist. He would ask him whether, during the latter years of the war, agriculture was not prosperous? Yet, in the report on labourers' wages, it was found, that it was at this very time, when the returns on agricultural capital were so large, that the pernicious system which now degraded our labourers took its rise. If they must wait before they 554 were to do anything for the poor till those prosperous times returned again, they must never look forward to doing anything for them at all. The capital wanted for his plan, they had already. He wanted sinews, muscles, and hearts willing to work. These they had, and, by a proper use of them, the produce of the country might be increased, and the character of the whole empire improved. The importance of this plan was underrated by hon. Members. Let them consider the numberless individuals who would be benefited, the happiness that would be diffused, and the improvement that would be occasioned by it, and he was sure its importance would be increased in their eyes, and the difficulties in the way of its execution vanish. He regretted it should have been thought that he had said anything to irritate the feelings of the country. Such was far from his wish; but the agitation which had been occasioned by the present distress could not be calmed without going at once to the bottom of it. The surface of society might be calmed, but the mass of suffering and of distress beneath would heave, and, if not counteracted, lay prostrate all existing institutions. He regretted to hear, since he had entered the House, that the fires were rekindling. He hoped it was not so; but to prevent it, let them make haste to kindle other flames, namely, the flame of gratitude in the bosom of the poor. Let them be told, that their situation was known, and that the House was anxious to afford them relief. Let them be taught again to entertain feelings of respect and affection towards their superiors—feelings which, he must do them the credit to say, he believed they were anxious to renew. In the statement he had made he had much curtailed what he had intended to say; but temporary indisposition, and fear of the House becoming impatient were the cause of it. He had intended to bring forward the plan in the last Parliament, but the pressure of other business had prevented him from doing so. He now begged to thank the Chancellor of the Exchequer for his kindness in allowing him to introduce this measure, and the House for the patience with which it had listened to him.
§ Leave was then given to bring in the Bill.