HC Deb 17 February 1832 vol 10 cc465-8
Lord George Lennox

presented a Petition from William Cross, a Farmer, in the neighbourhood of Dover, praying that some measure might be adopted for the protection of Agricultural Implements. The petitioner stated, that in the month of November last his thrashing machine was destroyed by rioters, and as those implements were not enumerated in the "Remedies against the Hundred Act;" he could obtain no compensation. He (Lord George Lennox) regretted exceedingly that the thrashing machines of such persons were not protected, and if no other Member of the House would undertake the task, he would bring in a Bill to give the same protection to the farmer as the manufacturer already possessed.

Mr. Hume

said, he had asked the question before, how it was, that thrashing machines were not protected, and he had been told, they were so. But it seemed those who took the trouble to correct him had themselves laboured under a mistake with regard to this matter, for they were left wholly unprotected. If a thrashing machine was destroyed by rioters, the farmer had no remedy, while if his house or furniture was injured he had an immediate remedy against the hundred. Under such circumstances, he begged to ask the hon. and learned Member, whether his Majesty's Government were about to introduce any measure to correct this anomaly.

The Solicitor General

said, he was not aware of any such measure being in contemplation.

Mr. Hume

observed, that he should take the very first opportunity of putting some questions to Ministers on the subject.

Petition to lie on the Table.

Lord George Lennox

presented a petition from the Landowners, and Inhabitants of Petworth, complaining of the great increase of the Poor-rates from 1810, to 1831, and praying that some Act should be introduced by which an equitable apportionment of the able-bodied labourers upon the land should be regulated by the decision of a majority, in value, of the ratepayers.

Sir Charles Burrell

could bear his testimony to the truth of the allegations contained in this petition. By the present unfortunate system at the meetings of Vestries, the dissent of one man out of twenty was sufficient to do away with the good intentions of the majority. Where nineteen well-disposed men wished to arrange an equitable apportionment of the able-bodied labourers upon the land, rather than setting them to work upon highways, and in stone pits, one self-willed person might overturn the proposition. He was no advocate for compulsory measures, but he apprehended that a permissive Bill might be framed, which could be acted upon where there existed a disposition to improve the condition of the poor, and which would enable a majority of two-thirds of the rate-payers in value, in Vestry assembled, to settle an equitable apportionment of the able-bodied labourers upon the land; and also to levy a proportionate rate in lieu of labour, upon such rate-payers as dissented from, or neglected to act upon, the principle established by this majority. Every occupier of land who was liable to be assessed, would pay labourers' wages according to the amount of his assessment; and an option might be given to every rate-payer whether he would employ a labourer, or pay the amount to the overseer. If this plan were adopted, it now was acted upon in a few districts, the labourers employed would be under a better control, and a competition would be raised for the best hands. The present practice of sending labourers out in gangs to work upon the roads, generated habits of idleness, instead of industry; while at the same time, their labour was of no proportionate value to the increased demand upon the Poor-rates. On these grounds, he cordially agreed in the prayer of the petition, and was most happy to give it his support. He certainly wished he could induce the hon. member for Oxford to bring in a Bill to effect these objects.

Mr. Estcourt

begged to state to his hon. friend, that he never had an intention to bring a Bill before this House on the subject, because such a measure unless it were introduced by his Majesty's Ministers, would have no chance of success; but, at the same time, he was able to bear his testimony to the correctness of the statements of his hon. friend. There could be no doubt that great distress pervaded the agricultural districts. This evil was not to be remedied by ordinary means; but, he believed, if the law was so framed as to enable those labourers who were well disposed, and willing to work, to procure employment, the evil might be remedied. But the fact was, that any one rate-payer in the Vestry who was ill-disposed, might defeat the arrangements made, however good they might be, or by whatever majority they might be carried. He was of opinion, therefore, that it would be most useful to frame an Act, by which a majority of the Vestry should have the power given them of legally providing employment for industrious and well-disposed persons.

Mr. Gillon

said, the present condition of the agricultural labourers was most pitiable. In many places, during ten months of the year, a great number of able and well-disposed men were incapable of procuring work. Much was said about slavery in the West Indies, but there was no slavery there worse in its operation than that which existed in Sussex, where paupers were frequently harnessed together to draw loads.

Lord Nugent

added his most earnest wishes to those of other hon. Members, to request the hon. member for Oxford to bring in a Bill to remedy the immense evil which was so justly complained of. The hon. Gentleman knew his opinion upon the subject, and was also acquainted with the provisions of the Bill which he had introduced into the House about two years since; a measure which, being now connected with his Majesty's Government, he did not think it would be prudent in him to follow up, inasmuch as it might then be deemed a Government measure. He would merely state one fact, namely, that in a parish near which he resided, the general principle of the Bill introduced had been adopted by agreement of the Vestry; the effect of which was, that after the lapse of scarcely one year there had been a reduction of nearly two-thirds in the average Poor-rates: and the plan had been attended with other very beneficial results. The farmer could now actually make a profit by employing men; whereas in former years he contributed to their support without receiving any return.

Mr. Fyshe Palmer

said, that within the last ten years he had had an opportunity of seeing the effects of this system at Oundle and other places; and it had succeeded to the satisfaction of the farmers and landlords.

Mr. Benett

was of opinion that, this particular system of labour-rate might be adopted with advantage in certain cases, though he was not convinced that it could be resorted to as a general measure. It must not be supposed that the condition of the labourer could be permanently improved unless the owners of the soil were also benefitted and relieved. He was sure that a general commutation of tithes would do more than anything to remove the existing grievances. Such a measure would strike at the root of the evil, and lead to future prosperity. There were two things which must be carried into effect, before any real good could be effected—namely, a change in the system of taxation, and a commutation of tithes.

Mr. Hunt

agreed with the hon. member for Wiltshire, that all enactments must prove complete failures, unless there was a general relief from the present weight of taxation; but in the mean time he begged to assure the hon. member for Sussex, that if he would bring in such a Bill as he suggested, he should be happy to give him his support.

Sir Charles Burrell

said, that as it had been remarked that Ministers ought to introduce a Billon the subject, he believed, the reason why they declined doing so was that they considered the undertaking would be more satisfactory if it did not proceed from Government.

Petition to be printed.

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