HC Deb 30 April 1834 vol 23 cc307-12
Sir Charles Burrell

presented a petition from the Justices of the peace acting in and for the extensive divisions of Guildford and Farnham, in the county of Surrey, and resident gentry and farmers occupying lands therein. The petitioners, stated that they had been witnesses of the numerous beneficial effects produced in very many parishes within their several divisions by the Act of Parliament passed in the second and third years of his present Majesty, entitled "An Act for the better Employment of Labourers in Agricultural Parishes;" that, in such parishes as had availed themselves of the provisions of the said Act, many industrious labourers had accordingly been better employed, having been withdrawn from various degrading and unprofitable pauper occupations, and restored to their natural employment in agricultural affairs; whereby the cultivation of the land had been greatly advanced, and the labourers rendered contented by increased wages and more congenial avocations—facts which they confidently asserted had been proved to their conviction by the great diminution of the business of the petty sessions; where, prior to the passing of the said Act, applications made by labourers for parochial relief or employment engrossed a large portion of their time but which had almost entirely ceased in the parishes which had resorted to its provisions. The petitioners did not mean to assert, that the Labourers' Employment Act effected any diminution of outlay to the community, for the labourer must be supported, and, in point of fact, received greater wages in the service of an individual than from parochial employment; but not only was the labour used by individuals more beneficial to the employer, and more productive to the community, but it appearing that where the Labour-rate Act had been in operation a considerable diminution in the sums assessed on the Poor-rates had been the consequence, they could not but consider any diminution in the levy of an impost vexatious in its nature and liable to misapplication, of itself a highly important result. In proof whereof, the petitioners begged to call the attention of the House to a statement subjoined to the petition; whereby it appeared that, in sixteen parishes where the labour-rate had been adopted, the monthly average number of paupers had been reduced by upwards of 290 men, and the sum expended in support of such labourers exhibited a difference of 400l. 13s. per month. The petitioners therefore prayed, that as the outline of a general and comprehensive measure for removing many of the grievances connected with the present system of Poor-laws had already been developed by one of his Majesty's Ministers, that, in the event of any delay attending the passing of such a measure, an Act from which so many important advantages had accrued might not be abandoned, but that it might be re-enacted for such limited period and with such improvements as should seem meet to the wisdom of the House. Several objections had been made to the clauses contained in the Bill, which he had the honour to introduce on this subject; but if the House would permit him to go into a Committee, he pledged himself to make one or two amendments founded on the suggestions of some of the most intelligent practical men in the country. He must say, that great advantages had resulted from a labour-rate in every parish where it had been adopted, and he challenged any hon. Member to adduce an instance in which an incendiary fire had taken place where the Bill had been in operation. He would read to the House a statement of the averages taken from returns made by sixteen parishes in the Divisions of Guildford and Farnham, prior to and during the operations of the labour-rate, which would show to the House, that a decrease of more than one half in the number of pauper labourers, and a proportionate diminution in the cost for supporting them, had taken place, under the provision of the Labourers' Employment Act. The statement of the sixteen parishes was as follows:—

Monthly average of pauper labourers prior to the introduction of the labour-rate 536
Monthly average of pauper labourers during the operation of the labour-rate 243
Average monthly diminution of pauper labourers during the operation of the labour-rate 293
Average monthly cost for supporting the pauper labourers prior to the labour-rate £700 8 10
Average monthly cost for supporting the pauper labourers during the operation of the labour-rate 299 15 10
Average monthly diminution of cost for supporting the pauper labourer during the operation of the labour-rate 400 13 0

Thus the average diminution of pauper labourers for one year amounted to 3,516, and the average diminution of cost for supporting them for the same period, and at the same rate, to 4,807l. 16s. He trusted hon. Members would give the subject a fair, candid, and unbiassed consideration, as they would find it not only of great advantage to themselves, but also to the whole country. He felt convinced, that the advantages of the measure only required to be known to be generally appreciated.

Mr. Clay

did not think, that the country Magistrates who had possessed the Administration of the Poor-laws for a number of years had proved themselves to be such good managers of the poor, as that the management should be continued to them. He was opposed to the principle of a labour-rate, and he entreated hon. Members to see the Report of the Poor-law Commissioners on the subject. It was proved by that Report that the Labour-rate Act had been attended with most injurious consequences.

Lord George Lennox

was in favour of a Labour-rate. He had had experience of its utility, and he could speak of it from his own knowledge. He was sorry that he had not had an opportunity of presenting a petition, signed by thirty Magistrates of the county of Sussex, in favour of a labour-rate. That petition had been committed to his care a fortnight before Easter, but, in the lottery which regulated the presentation of petitions, he had not the means of presenting it, though he had attended every day since for that purpose. He was, however, progressing a little, for he found that after waiting six or seven weeks, he was now the 48th on the Speaker's list.

Mr. Fysche Palmer

bore testimony to the advantage of a labour-rate in Bedfordshire and Berkshire. He could speak from his own knowledge, that in those parishes where the plan had been introduced, all the labourers had been employed, the greatest regularity prevailed, and all were contented and happy.

Sir George Strickland

rejoiced that his opposition to the Bill when it was introduced had been the means of preventing it being permanently acted upon. He contended, that the principle of the Bill was to make every man in the parish take a certain number of labourers, whether he wanted them or not. For his own part, he could not distinguish between such a principle and the principle adopted by the Trades' Unions, which had been so frequently deprecated in that House, of compelling masters to take a certain number of workmen whether they could find employ for them or not.

Mr. Estcourt

said, the principles of the Bill had been quite mistaken by the hon. Member who spoke last. By one of the clauses it would be found, that the plan could not be adopted in any parish without the consent of a large majority, he believed two-thirds or three-fourths, of the rate-payers. He approved of the measure as a temporary one, though he admitted the principle not to be a good one; but the hon. Members ought to re-collect that we were in an artificial state of things, and were to get out of our difficulties, or at least mitigate them, as well as we could.

Mr. Slaney

admitted, that the Labour-rate Employment Bill was only used as a palliative, but still any one who had read that interesting but melancholy volume, the Report of the Poor-law Commissioners, would see how injudicious it would be to re-enact the Act in question. He thought it would be most advisable that gentlemen should combine to make the measure introduced by Government for the improvement of the Poor-laws an effective one; and certainly nothing could be more injudicious than that the present measure should be brought under the consideration of the House.

Sir Charles Burrell

wished to have avoided a reply, but it was rendered necessary by the observations of some hon. Members, who were not acquainted with the provisions of the Bill. In allusion to one observation, he would merely say, that not only were the inhabitants of large towns not interested in the Bill, but they were shut out from its operation, inasmuch as towns embracing more than one parish could not adopt its provisions. The hostility of the hon. member for Yorkshire was therefore founded more on prejudice than reason. He was aware of the objections made to the principle by the Report of the Poor-law Commissioners, but he hoped to have an opportunity of showing, that the replies made to the inquiries of the Chancellor of the Exchequer were founded in erroneous and theoretical views, and not on any practical basis. With respect to the clergy being unjustly affected by the Act, he should take occasion on the second reading to show that a great many of them were favourable to its provisions. He should be prepared to show, that the tithe-owner was not unjustly treated under the Bill. He must, nevertheless, observe that when tithe owners, whether lay or clerical, took up their tithes in kind, they were justly required to find their proportion of employment for the parishioners, as much as the landowner, in a similar ratio to that which required the tithe-owner to contribute to the Poor-rates, whether by himself or his lessee. His esteemed friend, the member for the University of Oxford, had made an objection to the principle of the Bill; but if he would only refer to the Act 43rd Elizabeth, c. 2, which was an Act passed to relieve by work the labouring classes thrown out of employ by the suppression of monasteries, &c., he would find it was provided, "that the overseers of the poor shall take order from two or more Magistrates, from time to time, for setting children to work, &c.; also for setting to work all persons married or unmarried, having no means to maintain themselves; and also to raise, weekly or otherwise (by taxation of every inhabitant, parson, vicar, and others, and of every occupier of lands, houses, tithes impropriate, propriations of tithes, coal-mines, or saleable underwood, in such parish, in such competent sums as they shall think fit), a convenient stock of flax, hemp, &c., and set the poor on work; and also competent sums of money for the relief of the lame, impotent, old, blind, and such other among them, being poor and unable to work, &c." By some strange perversion of intellect and common sense, these words had been construed to extend no further than to workhouses and ground attached thereto; but nothing could be more contrary to the humane intentions of the Act. When the proper time came, he trusted he should be able to show that the Bill was not justly liable to the exceptions and prejudices created against it, and which practice and that petition showed to be utterly unfounded.

Petition laid on the Table.

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