§ Mr. Hodges
rose to oppose the third reading of the Bill, and to move as an Amendment, that it be read a third time that day six months. The thinness of the House, of which he must complain, for there ought to have been a greater number of Members present at that important stage of the measure, he took to be a proof, that something like a compact had been entered into relative to the passing of this Bill. The promoters and supporters of the Bill had said, that it was intended for the benefit of the country, and that it would be a great boon to the agriculturists. He denied that it would be a benefit. There was no one that suffered more severely from the operation of the present Poor-law system than he did, and consequently there ought to be no one more willing to get rid of it and to support the present Bill if that were calculated to effect its pretended object. But he could not support it, since no argument that he yet had heard had persuaded him, that the agricultural interests would be in the smallest degree benefitted 1028 by the passing of the present measure. It would be said very probably, that those who that night should oppose the third reading of the Bill had taken a lesson from the articles of certain newspapers, and from certain violent speeches that had been out of doors pronounced against the Bill. For his own part he had neither been biassed by newspaper articles, nor violent harangues, since his mind had been long made up as to the impropriety of the proposed measure. Certainly, some alterations had been made in the Committee; but, as it appeared to him, those alterations had not sufficiently softened down the most objectionable features of the measure. The very objectionable clauses relating to settlement, to the unions of parishes, and to bastardy, still remained nearly the same as they were at first. With respect to the bastardy clauses, he would tell the House, that the public at large felt no sympathy with them on the score of their anxiety to pass those clauses; and he would also say, that the public thought, that the passing of those clauses would throw additional burthens on the different parishes of the country. The consequence of the unions of parishes would be, that fresh workhouses would be erected; and he did not think those unions would succeed, especially when he referred to the county of Suffolk, in which the system had been tried, and in which only one union had been found to work well. He thought it would have been better if some means were taken to ascertain the effects of the different unions of parishes in the county of Suffolk, before they recommended the adoption of that system throughout England. The extreme change that would be caused by the present Bill, particularly in the food of labourers, would be the cause of a great deal of evil. He remembered, some years ago, when he was one of the visiting Magistrates for the county of Kent, that he and his brother Magistrates who displayed some anxiety as to the quality of the food supplied to the poor, were distinguished by the appellation of "fatteners." He concurred with his brother Magistrates in listening to some representations which were made to them, and instead of supplying the prison at Hastings with wheaten bread, they contracted with the baker, who supplied Maidstone gaol with the same description of bread made from oats as was served 1029 out in the barracks in that town. About ten days afterwards, he received an express from Hastings, desiring that he would immediately go there, for dysentery and fever prevailed among the prisoners to a most alarming extent, and the surgeon attributed it entirely to the alteration in the quality of the bread. He went there immediately, and in consequence of the representations of the surgeon, they disposed of all the bread of that quality, and procured a supply of the description before in use. He certainly was afraid that an alteration in the food of the poor in workhouses would lead to a general evil of this description. Besides, the system of unions deprecated by the poor, would aggravate their discontent, and alienate them from their neighbours and the farmers. He could see nothing more cruel than to refuse relief after June, 1835, to able-bodied paupers who might be willing to work; and he maintained, that they ought to receive parish relief unless work were provided for them. He dreaded no part of the Bill more than the fourth provision of it, by which it would be enacted, that no able-bodied labourer would be entitled to relief out of the poor-rates after June, 1835. He had very great fears as to the effect this part of the Bill would have on the labourers of the country. He felt strongly on the subject, because he was one of those who was anxious that the Government of the country should be carried on quietly. He was satisfied, however, that those who would be anxious to enforce the law in the country districts would be obliged to fly—that it would no longer be safe for them to remain there, and that life and property would not be secure in such places after the passing of this law. It had been said by the advocates of the measure that it would increase the rents of the landlords. It could have no such effect. It would be impossible to increase the value of property by such means. The present Bill was, however, the sequel of that passed in the year 1819, and perhaps a necessary consequence of that. However, he was sure, that many hon. Gentlemen would not have voted for the former measure if they had anticipated what would have been the effect of it; and he was sure they would have taken some precautionary steps to save the country from the consequences of such a violent change as would be produced by the 1030 present Bill. The present Bill, he repeated, was a sequel to that of 1819; but, if introduced at all, it should have been with some concomitant measure, such as, for instance, a Bill for the relief of the poor in Ireland. There ought also to be a provision to make an alteration in the Malt-tax as soon as that part of the Bill came into operation in 1835, which would throw the poor upon their own resources. He deprecated the intention of throwing the poor back upon their own resources, particularly since Parliament had in a great measure stripped them of all resource. Unless some new mode of finding labour and employment for the poor should be adopted the consequence of this measure would be, that the poor, in spite of everything, would be thrown upon the parishes, and the agricultural distress would be considerably increased. He would be glad to know, where there was an opening for employment for the poor. There was none in agriculture—none in the mines—none anywhere else that he knew of; and yet after June, 1835, they were to obtain no relief out of the poor-rates. But Gentlemen might think that unemployed labourers would be willing to emigrate, and when he spoke of his fears about the effects of sudden changes they might say, that no change in the laws could take place without creating a certain amount of discontent and partial collisions. To be sure the discontented might be put down if they were in the wrong; but when they had justice on their side, and were goaded on by their grievances, the recollection of any collision between them and the police or soldiery to put them down would be never effaced from their minds. All might recollect the melancholy affair of Manchester. It had never been forgotten by the people, and still remained rankling in their memories. He recollected an affair which took place many years ago at Bristol about bridge-tolls, which the people refused to pay, and which the Magistrates would not take off. The people came into collision with the authorities and were fired upon by the Hereford Militia. They never forgot the aggression, and when many years afterwards that regiment passed through the town it was received with general execration, though perhaps there did not remain a single man in it who had anything to do with previously firing upon the people. He cited this as 1031 a proof that the people never forgot collisions that took place between themselves and the soldiery, and the apprehension of such collisions was one reason why he objected to the passing of the present measure. Was it just, that nothing should be done to stop the emigration of Irish labourers to this country? He believed that full 500,000 of them came to this country, and yet nothing was done to protect the home-market of labour for the English labourer. If the Irish labourers were removed from London it would tend greatly to relieve the distress of the English labourers in the metropolitan counties, since those counties would then supply the metropolis with labourers, and in that way get rid of their surplus labouring population. The House should do justice to the English labourer and to English property by making those burthens fall equally on Irish property, which now fell exclusively on English property. The hon. Member for Essex had on a former night stated that the measure was a most important one, and that the House should proceed with it very cautiously. He regretted that that hon. Member was not then present to support his opinion, and that he had not on a former occasion expressed his opinions more largely on the subject. With respect to the Report of the Poor-Law Commissioners he acknowledged that it showed proofs of their industry and talent; but many portions of it showed that they had been too much addicted to fishing for questions and answers, which made him entertain less respect for that Report than other hon. Members. He did not envy the Commissioner that would be obliged to go into the southern counties of England and tell the labourers they would be compelled to live in the same way as the labourers of the northern counties, and that their wheaten loaf was to be changed into a barley one. The reception of such a Commissioner in the South would not be a very kindly one. The effect of this Bill would be to exasperate the labourers of the southern counties, and to weaken their attachment and allegiance to the Government of the country. He was sure, if they were anxious to uphold the security of property in the country, they should pause before they agreed to this last stage of the Bill. The hon. Member concluded by proposing his Amendment.
§ Sir Henry Willoughby
seconded the 1032 Amendment. He felt the utmost confidence in the well-known ability and knowledge of his hon. friend on all matters relating to the Poor-laws, and was of opinion that the objections to this Bill had not been fully stated nor met with sufficient attention. There had been 103 petitions, with 9,000 signatures against the Bill. Twenty-five of the largest towns, and ten of the largest parishes in and near London, had petitioned, not against the details, but against the principle of the Bill, including Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds, Huddersfield, Halifax, Glocester, Exeter, Oxford, Westminster, Wakefield, and many others. The meetings had been duly convened, and men experienced in matters of the poor had protested against the Central Board and its powers, the system of workhouses, and of Union, and the settlement and bastardy clauses. He objected to the workhouse system as a condition of relief; it was no part of the 43rd of Elizabeth. Work, but not workhouses, was the principle of that Act. There was nothing in the Act about workhouses, though convenient dwellings might be built for the poor under section 5. A workhouse necessarily occasioned a moral mischief. Let it be framed with what regulations, rules, and orders it might, it was an inherent defect in human nature that large masses of the population placed within the same walls would be contaminated. The Poor-law report admitted at page 172—that in superior houses, well managed, having 800 to 1,000 inmates, a rapid extension of vicious connexion was inevitable. He used the same words. He had seen many workhouses. One of the best was on the frontier of Holland—a well-managed colony, yet after all it was but a species of civilized slavery. There was moral mischief in all workhouses, only to be justified by the necessity of imposing a check on the idle and the profligate. He condemned workhouses, not as an appendage to other measures, but as a system, to which the Bill evidently pointed through all its various provisions. Before the workhouse system could be applied, the actual state of the labourers of England should be studied. He found on examination that vast masses of the able-bodied were in the habit of receiving relief. He had nothing to do with the system à priori; it might be bad; it was bad: but it had been acted on for forty years; and there it was, He found the 1033 hand-loom weavers of Manchester, Salford, Carlisle, mechanics in Clerkenwell, artificers in Birmingham, silk people in Coventry and Bethnal-green, the hosiers of Worcester, Tewkesbury, Hinckley, stocking-makers in Nottingham, 3,000 spinners in Trowbridge and the West of England, all received relief in aid of wages. The hon. member for Manchester had foretold the total ruin of the hand-loom weaver if aid were withheld, where the loom was borrowed, and who was kept in competition with machinery by a small and weekly relief. Remove such a man into a workhouse, and he was ruined for ever. In the country it was not better. Two hundred and twenty parishes gave a return of redundant labour. What was the language of the Committee of the House of Commons in 1828?—that redundant labour was the cause of the misery of the peasantry, and of low wages. One-half of the county of Suffolk received relief. There was a proportion of 133 persons in Sussex to do the work of 100. Mr. Day, an able Magistrate, calculated 8,000 surplus labourers in the rapes of Sussex. Could the House sanction a workhouse system to be applied to such districts? Grant the system was good for the idle and worthless, who preyed on the funds of the parish, could overseers place within the walls of a workhouse those who were willing to work, and whose only fault was they could find no one provided with funds to employ them? He put this question strongly, because he felt it was unanswerable. If it were true, as some of the Assistant-Commissioners seemed to think, that all parties applying for relief were mendicants, if not rogues, whose title was based on a portion of idleness, and of which the most was made according as he was expert in lying and intimidation, to use the expressions of Mr. Cowell, the system might be good. But take the hundred of Corford. The population amounted to 7,877 people—those who received relief to 4,304. This hundred was once the seat of a flourishing woollen manufacture; but the powers of machinery had silenced the knitting needle, the shuttle, and the spinning wheel and the distaff, yet the Laws of Settlement bound the people to their parishes. Could the House sanction a workhouse system in such a district, without becoming parties to an act of injustice? He joined in the eloquent language of the 1034 Commissioner, Mr. Stuart, "Who is now to rush among the unhappy victims of a bad system, and select those who are to be shut up in a workhouse, or to be stigmatized by a badge?" Again, take the case of Battle. There was a surplus of labour—eighty men out of employ in summer, and the report says, all in winter. Be it so—build a workhouse—the unmarried may do well for a time—the married would go into the workhouse? When would they come out?—their home was gone—their household goods were sold; they must remain indefinitely in the workhouse, and moral mischief would ensue. The emigration clause caused a debate; he heard with pleasure the observations of his hon. friend, the member for Wolverhampton on the necessity of a sound system of emigration; but why? The argument itself implied a surplus population, at least in some places. If so, it was fatal to the workhouse system as a general plan. The House had no right, as it must have no inclination, so to deal with a surplus population. The right hon. member for Cambridge agreed in the necessity of a good plan of emigration. He eulogized, and justly, Sir Wilmot Horton; but he forgot the conclusion of Sir Wilmot Horton's report, which says "it is impossible to do anything for England by emigration unless you apply yourself to Ireland, whose population will quickly fill up any vacuum, and reduce the labouring classes to an uniform state of degradation and misery." That suggested an important consideration. It was urged that the Legislature was about to throw the English labourer on his resources. He would say take care, you know what those resources are, and see that the labourer has fair play. The vast mass of taxation fell on the shoulders of the productive classes: the sum of 26,000,000l. of public revenue were levied on the food and drink of the people, to say nothing of other taxation. Let them take care how they applied a strict workhouse system to such a state of financial policy. He approved of the policy, in 1796, of securing a minimum of wages to the English labourer. At that time the deluge of paper money was about to break forth, producing on money prices the same effect as the discovery of mines in America in the reign of Elizabeth; at that time the allowance system so far protected the lower classes—famine and other evils were 1035 thus avoided, though it must ever be lamented that a temporary measure in 1795 was acted on permanently, and had introduced evils which all deplored. But in times of famine, that which was done in 1795 must be done again: even the Commissioners would again pursue the course for which Magistrates had been so unjustly blamed. The people could not starve. That was the principle of the Poor-law, and it was the only ground on which the offences of mendicancy and vagrancy can be got rid of. Doubts had been expressed as to the effects of the immigration of labour from Ireland on the English labourer; he would quote no English authority, but a Scotch one, and a very good evidence, Mr. Brown of Galloway, who said "pauperism is increasing in Scotland, owing chiefly to the great influx of Irish labourers, who, content to live in huts, to feed on potatoes, to be clothed in rags, and to allow their wives and children to beg, underbid, and under-work the Scotch labourers, who are compelled to leave the country, or to adopt the same habits to bear a fair competition." Place the English labourer in a workhouse, make it very disagreeable, deprive him of his liberty, of his accustomed enjoyments —no beer, no tobacco, (according to the Report), and he might be driven out; but he then came into the towns, in competition with the Irish labourer; and in the country, if he had a large family, and could not migrate, he must take the minimum of wages; in fact, whatever he was offered. Would that improve the condition of the working classes? Would that work out the comfort of the labourer? Could the independent labourer be benefitted by this forced competition? He had great doubts, and therefore he opposed the Bill. As to other points, he contended for the necessity of some intermediate authority between the Board and the country authorities. The Report had declared the local authorities to be unworthy of trust; yet who would the guardians be? They must be the servants of the Commissioners, who would prescribe rules, and punish misconduct by fines. Would the gentry take the office of guardians? The Commissioners were however, to have nothing to do with particular cases. There was a proviso to this effect. What then would become of the complaints of the lower classes? Assuming the laws and rules of the Central 1036 Board to be good, who would see to their enforcement? Who was to be certain that guardians would attend—when and where, so that they might be of easy access? Was there no danger of their negligence or harshness? In answer to the 47th query, magistrates, gentry, clergy, curates, churchwardens, vestry clerks, and overseers, agreed that some appeal was required to prevent tyranny and oppression. The power of forming unions would be oppressive. There were four large parishes and six small—the small with easy burthens, the large with heavy burthens. Two guardians were assigned to each of the large; thus the eight guardians of the large parishes would control the six of the smaller, and would saddle them with expenses for workhouses, officers, and other matters for which they had not any occasion. Thus, to take the case of Pulborough, a heavily burthened parish, all the neighbouring parishes would be made to contribute, which would alter the value of the property in all such parishes. It was no answer to say, the payments must be made in a certain proportion. He protested against any payment whatever for purposes and objects that were not required by the parish called upon to contribute, and he thought, a majority of rate-payers should decide. He must call the attention of the House to the condition of the aged poor under this Bill. He thought it bad policy and against justice to weaken their fair claims. The Act, 36th George 3rd was repealed; relief could not be claimed out of a workhouse, where there was one. Who was there who knew the condition of the aged poor in the villages, that did not know, that removal from a cottage to a workhouse was the most odious of changes?—the loss of quiet, of your accustomed haunts and society, became absolute privations. The old Act limited the distance to ten miles; but, under this Bill, an aged pauper might be taken twenty miles or more, when, in point of justice, economy, and fairness, he would be better off in his village. He contended, that the aged poor at the least should be excepted from this Bill; no one blamed that part of the existing administration of the laws. The Report admitted, that this class of relief was fairly given. He pretended to no more humanity than any other hon. Member; but he believed, that every humane mind would at once admit the propriety 1037 of leaving to the aged poor the benefit of 36th George 3rd. He must conclude he had selected some leading points of objection. There was too much of discretion in the Bill. Discretion in a legislator was a good thing: to use the language of Lord Coke, in a legislator it was a golden rule; but when the Act was law, and to be acted upon, it might become a crooked cord. This was his fear. Discretion already had done evils, yet the most important clauses were contradicted by their provisoes. He pitied those who would have to act under the Bill. The Poor-law Report only recommended a cheap agency to carry into effect the intentions of the Legislature; but the Legislature did not declare its intentions; it trusted to the discretion of three nameless gentlemen on matters in which the Legislature alone could speak with force and effect. The Bill trenched also too much on the principles of self-government—one of the best points of the English Constitution, which left to families, parishes, towns, and counties, to govern themselves. All over the world, in Turkey as in England, the benefits of this course were visible. Even in the misgoverned provinces of Turkey the peasantry governed themselves in their villages, and bore up against the rapacities and mischiefs of the worst form of Government. He thought this principle was invaded too strongly by this Bill. He did not object to a Central Board acting as a Board of Control; he did object to one which appeared intended to interfere and to meddle in matters which the ratepayers could settle and adjust much better for themselves. He must, therefore, support the Amendment of his hon. friend.
Mr. Wolryche Whitmore
had not intended to take any part in the discussion at the present stage of the Bill, as it had already been so fully discussed on other occasions; but after what had fallen from the hon. Gentleman against the Bill, he felt called upon to trouble the House with a few remarks. The hon. member for Kent had admitted, that great evils existed in the administration of the Poor-laws in the south of England; but the hon. Member seemed to think, that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to have a system free from such defects. If the hon. Member would visit the part of the country where he resided occasionally, the hon. Member would find a system free from those defects which 1038 had been pointed out. The hon. Member, however seemed to think, that it would be improper to act upon the same principles in the south of England as were acted upon in the north. He seemed to think, that the agricultural labourers in the north lived on oat bread, and were in a most miserable condition; but he could assure the hon. Gentleman, that the peasantry in the north were in a much better situation than he seemed to be aware of. The truth was, that the hon. Member, as well as other hon. Gentlemen, supposed, that the present system of Poor-laws was the only possible one that could be supported; but he was convinced, that there was nothing to prevent the adoption of the remedies that had been proposed. Both the hon. Member and the hon. Baronet admitted, that there was a surplus population in the country. He believed that was the case, and that it had been mainly brought about by the maladministration of the Poor-laws, which had operated as an encouragement to the increase of population. It had been stated that, as long as this surplus population continued, it would be extremely difficult and dangerous to attempt a change. He admitted, that there was danger in a great and sudden change, but he put that against the evils which would arise from the continuance of the present system, and he thought, that the evil likely to arise from the former was slight in comparison with that which would result from the latter. He contended, that they were bound as legislators at once to meet the evil, which was not only perfectly obvious, but which, if permitted to continue, would involve all the property and interests in the country in one common ruin. He thought, that there might be some danger in carrying the measure into effect; but, as legislators, they were bound at once to meet a great and increasing danger, and to apply an efficient remedy. It was their duty at once to place the labouring population in such a situation that their condition could be ameliorated, and this could only be done by some extensive and efficient measure similar to that before the House. When hon. Gentlemen endeavoured to show how much of inhumanity there was in a change of the law, it appeared to him that they looked to individual cases, and overlooked the great principles of legislation and the application of them to the present state of things, He was convinced, 1039 that great evil had been inflicted on the labouring classes of this country, by leading them early in life to rely on the poor-rates for the means of subsistence, instead of looking to their own exertions. The hon. member for Kent had stated, that they would do great evil to the labouring classes if they passed that Bill; but the hon. Member had not shown that this would be the case, and he distinctly denied the accuracy of the hon. Member's inference. His hon. friend had said, that he lived in a part of the country in which the poor were willing to labour. He was perfectly satisfied that the poor were willing to labour, provided the labour was of a beneficial character; but they were not willing to labour when they found that it was not of that character, such, for instance, as digging in gravel-pits, or in digging holes one day and filling them up on the next. The poor very naturally complained of this useless species of labour, and a great portion of the poor fund was expended in it which might be profitably employed. He need hardly add, that such a mode of proceeding was injurious to the poor man. He knew that a great many farmers encouraged this species of mischievous labour by paying a great portion of the wages out of the poor's-rates, that they might make a demand on the landlords for the reduction of their rents, and also in hopes that they might throw a portion of the charge on the other inhabitants of the parish. He was satisfied that they were mistaken, as nothing tended so much to destroy elasticity of mind in the labourers, and to make them of inferior character, as acting upon such erroneous principles, which was exemplified by their conduct in a great part of the south of England. The Legislature were bound to lay down sound principles on which to act. If they could find such principles as would probably afford a remedy to the present evils of the system they should apply them fearlessly. He believed, that the present measure would be fraught with the greatest good to the country, and he felt assured, that none would be more benefitted by it than the labouring classes themselves; and he did not think he was wrong, for his opinions had not been taken up lightly or inconsiderately.
§ Mr. Benett
said, that his hon. friend who had just sat down, had declared, that there was more comfort amongst the la- 1040 bouring classes of the county of Salop than was to be met with amongst the labourers of the county of Kent, and he imputed the circumstance to a portion of the wages of the latter being paid out of the poor's rates; that, in short, the labouring people of the northern counties lived much better than those in the southern districts, and were altogether in a superior situation. He was surprised, that his hon. friend, before he hazarded this statement, had not examined the three large blue books on the table. If he had, he would have found a statement of the wages paid to a labourer in Kent and in Salop. From that Report, it appeared, that the average annual wages paid to an agricultural labourer in Kent was 48l. 5s., while in Salop, the annual average wages to a labourer was only 36l. Again, he found, that the average poor-rate paid on each pauper was 14s. 5d. in Kent, while the similar charge in Salop was only 7s. 9d. He would ask, whether it was not extraordinary, that with double poor-rates in Kent, as compared with Salop, and one-third more wages, the labourers in Kent should be starving, whilst in Salop they got good meat and bread. He denied, that there was any evidence to support that assertion. He would exemplify his opinion on a larger scale. He would take fourteen of the northern counties, in which the labourers were said to be in such comfort, and fourteen of the southern counties, going as far west as Wiltshire and Gloucester, and would show, from the Report of the Poor-law Commissioners what were the facts of the case. He did so because he had heard so much of the comfort of the agricultural labourers of the north of England, of the large wages obtained by them, and of the excellence of the farmers, and at the same time were told of the injurious and heartless conduct of the landlords and farmers of the south of England. He found, that the average annual wages paid to an agricultural labourer in the fourteen southern counties of England was 41l. 17s. 7d., while, in the fourteen northern counties, it was only 37l. 7s. 1½d. This statement was taken from the documents published in the Report of the Poor-law Commissioners. He denied, that there was any ground for the assertion that wages in the south were worse in any respect than wages in the north. In the south, wages were higher than in any part of 1041 England; at the same time, he did not deny, that the poor-rates were larger. He denied, however, that it could be truly said, that wages were paid out of the poor rates. Wages were paid on a scale framed according to the price of provisions. He knew, that his hon. friend entertained great objections to this plan; but in practice it had been found beneficial. The object of the scale of wages was, to establish a minimum of wages, which was desirable for the welfare of the labouring classes. He objected strongly to making relief conditional on going into the workhouse, which would be productive of the greatest cruelty. He had known instances of industrious labourers who had lived in a parish forty years without requiring parochial aid, at last being compelled to demand temporary relief. Would it not be a case of cruelty to send such persons to a workhouse? He protested also, against sending able-bodied men with their families to the workhouse, as it would only tend to load the workhouses with a dead weight of poverty. Such principles as were now proposed to be acted upon in that Bill had been denounced by the political economists when Mr. Wilmot Horton brought forward his plan; but in consequence of the opposition he had to contend with, he was obliged to abandon it. He should vote against the third reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. Bulteel
said, that thinking the measure would be a very great improvement in the law, he was anxious to give it his support, notwithstanding a petition had been presented against it, from that part of the county of Devon which he had the honour to represent.
§ Mr. Robinson
said, that in opposing the third reading of the Bill, he did no more than his duty. Even if they were to pass it, he was satisfied it would fail in its operation. The arguments of the hon. member for Wolverhampton and the other Gentlemen by whom the Government were supported on this occasion, were founded upon two fallacies. They in the first place assumed, that there was no alternative left but the adoption of this Bill, or leaving the Poor-laws with all their imperfections on their head. Now, this he begged leave to deny. In no one debate which had taken place on the subject, had a single word been said, which could be construed into a defence of the abuses of the system. On the contrary, it was on 1042 all sides admitted that much mal-administration existed, and that it was most necessary that abuses should be corrected. It was said, that transferring the power now exercised by the rate-payers into the hands of Commissioners, would be a great advantage; but such a course would, in his opinion, produce the very contrary effect, and, instead of remedying the evils complained of, would only, he firmly believed, tend to increase them. It was represented by the advocates of the measure, that its effect would be, to raise the rate of wages, and of course benefit the labouring poor; that was the second fallacy which had been put forward. Instead of bettering the condition of the labouring poor, its effect would be, to depress their situation very considerably. Was there a single provision contained in this Bill which would give additional employment to the labouring classes? or did it in any one clause or part of it suggest any mode by which they were to be relieved from the distress under which they laboured? In short, was there a single feature of this—he must be allowed to call it, because it was the opinion he entertained of it—odious and cruel measure, which held out the least prospect or hope to the poor, that when they were deprived of relief from the parish, they would have work to enable them to live? There was not, and therefore it was worse than idle to say, that its effect would be to better their condition. The fact was, that this Bill proceeded upon the principle, that in no case whatever would they be entitled to relief except on the condition of working. That was, in fact, the principle on which the Poor-law Commissioners proceeded. The poor man would be told, "You must either go into the workhouse, or we cannot give you relief;" and no distinction whatever was to be made between honesty and immorality, and the aged and infirm, and the able-bodied labourer. All were to be treated alike. But what would be the effect of such a system as this? Would it not multiply workhouses in all parts of the country, and increase rather than diminish pauperism? It was said, however, that the present system was defective and called for alteration. Admitted; but then was the fact, that errors existed in that system to be taken as proof that this Bill was wise and would work well? In the Report of the Commissioners, they stated, that they entertained 1043 no hope that the evils complained of would be eradicated by the measure they proposed; and what was this but an admission, that if this Bill were not accompanied by other measures for the relief of the poor, it would be wholly inoperative? Now, it was very well to say, that if this Bill passed, the poor rates would be diminished. He knew, that this notion induced some of the Members of that House to give it their support; but for himself, he must say, that he would much rather pay even high poor rates than be relieved from the payment by such a Bill as this. He should like to know how it would give additional security to property, or in what way the situation of the owners of property would be benefited by it? His belief was, that its tendency would be to alienate the affections of the poor from the rich, and no measure that was likely to lead to such a result would give security to either person or property. It was all very well to talk of the situation of the poor at the time the Act of the 43rd of Elizabeth was passed; but could they now restore them to the condition in which they then were? He was satisfied that they could not. But must it not be obvious, that a measure which might have been wise in the reign of Elizabeth would be altogether inapplicable at the present period? A variety of circumstances had concurred to render the state of society more complicated now than it was then, and the discovery and use of machinery had produced a very striking alteration in the condition of the poor. He was willing to admit, that the use of machinery was beneficial in the highest degree to the wealth of the country; but he, at the same time, thought that its advantages to the labouring classes were very doubtful. He objected, however, to the Bill because it held out no hope that the condition of the labouring classes would be benefited by the change; on the contrary, it would be productive of great hardship to them, and therefore he resisted this Bill. It was as great an insult to the labouring classes to hold this measure out as a boon to them, as it was to hold the bastardy clause out as a boon to females. The one was just as great a boon as the other. With respect to the alteration proposed to be made in the Bastardy Laws, he must say, that a more arbitrary and cruel proposition could not be adopted by the most tyrannical Legislature that 1044 ever existed. It was most unjust, that the whole of the burthen should be thrown upon the female, and such a recommendation only showed how little the Poor-law Commissioners understood the subject with which they had to deal. But this Bill took away the consolation which the poor had under the present system, of stating their grievances to their more wealthy neighbours, or seeking an alleviation of their distress at the hands of a Magistrate. The duty of administering relief was to be placed in the hands of a set of paid Commissioners, who could have no sympathy for the situation of the pauper; and when the poor found that they could no longer benefit by the interference of the wealthy on their behalf, would not the affections of the lower classes be alienated from the higher? He was, however, convinced, that this Bill would fail, and that in a short time the House would be called upon either to repeal or so to alter it as to make it suitable to the views of the people.
§ Mr. Slaney
said, that the hon. Member who opposed the Bill, argued as if no case had been made out against the present administration of the Poor-laws, and as if this Bill were a wanton experiment upon the country. Now he would ask, if a case had not been made out to justify this Bill? Had there not been owing to the situation in which the poorer classes were placed, a rural insurrection which rendered insecure the whole property of the country? He thought, however, that the operation of this Bill should be confined to particular counties, where the Poor-laws had been badly administered, and the interests of the labouring classes neglected. He deplored that particular instances should be so often treated by hon. Gentlemen as cases of general occurrence. His hon. friend, the member for Wiltshire (Mr. Benett), had told the House, in reply to the assertion of the hon. Gentleman near, him (Mr. Wolryche Whitmore), that wages in Wiltshire amounted to 46l. in the year, while in Salop they did not amount to more than 36l.; and, therefore, said his hon. friend, "You must be worse off in your county than I am." There was one fact which served as a useful commentary on the observations of his hon. friend,— namely, that while in Wiltshire, the poor-rates were 13s. per head, in Salop they were only 7s. That fact must arise from some mismanagement. How was it to be accounted for? Why in the southern 1045 counties it was the custom to relieve men with families in every possible way, while single men were rejected, and set to work on the roads for a very stinted allowance. That was the fact. Now in Salop the wages were the same to married and single, because an allowance system was not established. In counties where there was coal on the spot, it was worth 1s. per week to a labourer; and the labourers of Shropshire were much better off than those of Wiltshire; for instance, there was a much less number of them on the poor-rates, they were more attached to the gentry, more willing and more contented, than where the allowance-system prevailed; there had been no fires, and no complaints. There could be no doubt, however, that the progress of manufactures afforded employment to labour. But where the allowance-system prevailed, the peasantry became pauperized and distressed, and where the allowance-system was unknown, the case was the reverse. With respect to the Bill, he admitted, that if it were acted upon rashly, it might fail. He did not, however, anticipate any such result. The same feeling which actuated the Commissioners in the inquiries they had already made, would direct them in laying down their future regulations. The hon. member for Worcester said, that this Bill made the workhouse the only species of relief for the pauper. He was not aware of such a provision. It certainly was stated that a man should not receive relief, unless lie were employed by the parish. He had no hesitation in saying, that such a restriction was equally imprudent, dangerous, and unnecessary, The hon. Gentleman had asked how any man's condition would be benefited by this Bill? Suppose the case of a parish containing sixty labourers, and affording work only for fifty. This Bill would give the surplus labourers much greater facilities for obtaining work elsewhere than under the existing system. By the present regulations, the only men who obtain relief are the married. They actually almost preclude the single men from any hope of obtaining employment. What was the consequence? The single man said, "Instead of being better off by being single, I am actually in a worse condition; I will therefore marry, to enable myself to obtain parochial relief, and let the parish take care of my children." Now was it not most desirable to such a man to feel 1046 the consequences of marriage its every other rank and station of society. Take the case of a younger son of a country gentleman: if he contracted an imprudent marriage, he at once lost his station in society, or he must turn whatever talents he possessed to use in some profession which would afford him the means of subsistence. They were bound to urge this consideration upon the poor for their own sakes. He ventured to say—and the assertion was borne out by the returns of the state of crime—that where there was a good administration of the Poor-laws, the poor were happier and more moral than where this improved administration had been wanting. It was the duty of Government to attempt to remedy these evils. He admitted, that there were objectionable points in the Bill. He admitted that it was a hardship to compel the aged poor to go into workhouses, but on the whole the Bill was an efficient remedy, notwithstanding these drawbacks. The Bill had his hearty concurrence. He would not prophecy as to what would be the result, but this he would say, that it was a beginning, and Government would be bound to follow it up. The principle on which it was founded had been acted on for years in the county with which he was connected, and he would back that county against any other in England, as regarded the management of the poor; and that formed one strong reason why he gave his full support to the Bill. There was another reason, and that was, that it would restore the Poor-laws to their original principle and spirit, and make them somewhat conformable to the Act of Elizabeth. In addition, however, to the improvement which the amended system was calculated to produce, by checking the increase of surplus labour, it would be well to promote the education of the poorer classes residing in populous manufacturing towns, and also to accommodate them with open places in the vicinity for healthful recreation.
§ Mr. Cobbett
said, his chief purpose in rising was, to show the real objects of this Bill, and the consequences it was likely to produce, particularly on the poor population. Before, entering on these, however, he would say a few words in answer to one or two hon. Members, and more especially to the hon. member for Wolverhampton, relative to surplus labour. The plan of that hon. Member was, to send all 1047 persons who could not find work across the sea some 15,000 miles. His plan was to settle new colonies, and how that plan would work they would hear by-and-by. With regard to surplus labour he would refer the House to some reports laid on the Table of the House. One of these reports related to the subject of population; and he found, from that report, that in Lincolnshire, according to the evidence of a great number of persons, there was not more population in that country than was required; and particularly in harvest time, there was not enough; yet still these philosophers would go on, day after day, and night after night, with their dissertations about surplus labour. A Committee sat in 1828, of which the hon. member for Shrewsbury was Chairman, to inquire upon this very subject of surplus labourers, and by this Committee Mr. Boyce was examined. When the question was put to him, whether he considered that there was a surplus of labourers, he replied that there was not. And he added that he was grieved to see in one part of the country forty young men harnessed to gravel carts, and doing the work of horses. He was asked, was not this a proof of superabundance of labour, and replied, that it was not; that there was labour for them on the land, in hoeing, draining, and ditching; but that this labour was not entered upon, though necessary, because the farmers had not the means of undertaking it. Why, he (Mr. Cobbett) would ask—why had they not the means? Because of the distress and ruin created by the Currency Bill of 1819. It was said the present Bill was intended for the good of the poor. He trusted it would be for their good, and not turn out to be a scheme for injuring both farmers and labourers. Much had been said about riots caused by the Poor-laws; but those Poor-laws that caused the riots were not those instituted in the reign of Elizabeth, but as altered by Sturges Bourne's Act, of which the present Bill was only a continuation. He now came to a point which related to himself. An hon. Member—the member for Shoreham, said the other evening, that he (Mr. Cobbett) was the cause of the outrages in the country, and the libel in the Commissioners' Report said the same. They insisted on this, notwithstanding the evidence given on the trial of the rioters. Now, he would show that the report of the Poor-law Commis- 1048 sioners stated the real cause. The hon. Gentleman here read a passage from the report of evidence given before the Commissioners, in which it was stated by the labourers, that the harsh treatment of the overseers was the cause of the outrages; and that if they had been treated with civility, they would not have so much minded being poor. The Bill before the House might be for the good of the people, but he verily believed that the object of the framers of it was to reduce the labourers of this country to the wretched state of the people of Ireland—["Oh! oh!"] Members might call out "Oh! oh!" but he was right, and he would state his reasons. There were three countries in the empire, and the condition of the inhabitants in each was very different. In the south, where there were Poor-laws, you found the peasant had a comfortable clean cottage, with windows and window-curtains, and rose-trees, and vines adorning the walls, and some other conveniencies, which were not known in the North. That was the consequence of the Poor-laws, as established in the reign of Elizabeth. Well, there was another country where there were partial Poor-laws; but he trusted England would never adopt the system of that country. At all events water-porridge and brose should never be introduced into Sussex if he could help it. That country—he meant Scotland—had Poor-laws before England had them; but they were done away with by the Reformation. After which the heritors, with the assistance of the Church ministers, of whom they were the patrons, had been gradually doing every thing in their power, not only to devour the poor-rates, but also the tithes, and put both into their own pockets. If the hon. member for Middlesex were in the House he would desire him only to read the Appendix B to the Poor-law Commissioners' Report, and then ask him if he wished to see the poor of England reduced to such a state of wretchedness? But there was another country where there were no poor-laws at all; and oh! how the philosophers would revel at the prospect of such a country! Not a country where the women went without shoes and stockings—but a country where they were half-naked, and in some places quite naked. For the truth of his statement he referred hon. Gentlemen to a report on the Table of the House. How the philosophers would 1049 revel at such a sight, in a country where there were no Poor-laws, and no degrading allowances for the maintenance of the poor! That was the cause of the frequent rebellions in that country—and he called them just rebellions. They were eternally hearing of disturbances in Ireland; and the hon. member for Tipperary had that night declared that there were, out of 7,000 persons in one district, 2,000 who were actually starving. He need not ask what would be done in such a case in England. He would now come to the point. He verily believed as he had already said, that the authors of this Bill wished to do away with assessments for the poor altogether in Scotland immediately, and in England by degrees, and reduce Scotland and England to the state of Ireland, and put the tithes and the poor-rates into the pockets of the landlord. He would give his reasons for these assertions. When the Poor-law Commissioners were sent out first, they were not properly initiated, they were told if you find the poor-rates are not on the increase it will be better to leave the rates as they are, it would be better to adopt no measure at all, because it was of no use to run a certain hazard for an uncertain advantage. Well, from the report of these Commissioners, it appeared that for the last year the poor-rates had diminished 3½ per cent, and in abused Sussex 7 per cent, and why then not stop? The poor-rates in round numbers were eight millions a-year, two millions of which were paid to agents and attorneys, and for law expenses. Now he verily believed, if parishes were fairly examined, it would be found that the poor received only 5,000,000l. But supposing even they received six millions, was it proper not to diminish the other two millions? They could face the poor—they could cut down their allowances—but they could not face the parties who shared in the two millions. He was prepared to show, that the poor-rates had not increased in proportion to the increased taxes paid by the poorer classes, and he, therefore, saw no grounds for the Bill unless they wished to elevate (a favourite phrase of the philosophers) the English to the standard of the Scotch—to the standard of the brose bowl and water-porridge. But in order to show the sentiments by which the Government were guided in this measure, he would refer to the report of Mt. Tuffnell, 1050 who had been appointed one of the Irish Church Commissioners, and that showed that his conduct had been approved of by the Government. That Commissioner said in spite of the advantages resulting from the Poor-laws great evils resulted from them, and it was sound policy to aim at their entire abolition. All Poor-laws were in their essence impolitic, and ought ultimately to be abolished, but not in England without careful preparation. That he believed was the purpose of Ministers, and if they denied it, they did so to deceive the House of Commons. In the instructions to the Commissioners there were two things to which he wished to call the attention of the House. The one was an express desire upon the part of Government—to do what? Why, to so manage the thing that the people of England might be gradually used to coarser food than at present. That would, indeed, be bringing the north to the south! Another thing was, that there were to be 200 workhouses. These workhouses, he foresaw, would be so many military stations. No doubt there would be a police station attached to each of them. To be sure there would. The effect of one of the instructions would possibly be an attempt to reconcile the people to potatoes and sea-weed as a diet. The Poor-law Commissioners in their report said, that in one parish, which they mentioned, every man who had been a farmer for thirty-years preceding was at the time the report was drawn up subsisting upon the poor-rates. Were these men to be treated in the manner, in the harsh and cruel manner, prescribed by this Bill? How many tradesmen, at present residing in Fleet-street, might within a short time be obliged to look to the poor-rates fur support, and were these men to be driven to a workhouse in a workhouse dress? Were their families to be dragged from them, or they from their families, and were one and all of them to be treated worse than negro slaves or even than favourite hounds? Would not this be the effect of the Bill? Was it not the object contemplated by the Commissioners, who might be said to be the mentor under whose auspices this Bill was brought forward, while the noble Lord was but the Ministerial Telemachus? The object of the Bill was to raise the character of the English labourer. Raise the character of the English labourer, forsooth! The 1051 English labourer, no doubt had reason to be grateful for it. His own opinion was that the object of the Bill was, to rob the poor man to enrich the landowner. That object, although he thought it was contemplated, he yet knew would not be effected by the Bill. He would call upon the supporters of the Church to recollect that poor-rates and tithes went together; and let them abolish one, and the other was sure to follow. When the noble Lord was asked for a reduction of the Malt-tax, or for some other measure that would be of advantage to the agricultural interest, his answer always was, that he had something in store for that class—some great and signal good, that would be a cure for all their evils. Well here it was. And yet this Poor-law Bill, this measure of advantage to the agricultural classes, he did not think would receive the general approbation of that class. One deplorable effect of the abolition of poor-rates would be the lowering of wages; for it was the system of allowance that raised the wages in the southern districts. But the landowners would not trust the farmers with their own affairs, and the disposal of their own money, lest they might be tempted to pay the labourers out of rent. So they said, "Let us have a Board of Commissioners, and let us have vestries, and let us all have votes; let us have six votes a-piece, and let us vote moreover by proxy; so that we may be absentees, and enjoy ourselves as the Irish absentees do." But there was this difference between the two cases. Where were the English absentees to go to? The Irish and the Scotch absentees now came to England, the place of refuge for all people in distress; but where were they all to go when that country came under the operation of this odious enactment? For his own part he should not have the heart to remain in the land which had been happy and flourishing under his father. Again he declared that the House could not with any show of justice or propriety pass this Bill. They might have power to do so, but had they the rightful power? He had before him a volume of Blackstone's Commentaries treating of the rights of men, and in that volume he found it stated of the English Poor-laws, "That the law not only regarded the life and members of every individual, but also furnished him with everything necessary for their support. For, it was added, there 1052 was no man so indigent and wretched but he might demand a supply of sufficient necessaries for the support of his life from the more opulent portion of the community and that these most humane provisions of our law were not only for the protection of the poor man, but of society itself." Blackstone had declared in this passage that the poor man had a right to relief, yet the present Bill proposed to take away that right, inasmuch as it took away, as he had before shown, the means of enjoying that right. He would now quote another learned authority, of Justice Hale, who declared that "it formed a fundamental part of the Constitution of England," to provide a sufficient supply for the necessary relief of the indigent poor. They were now, then, about to sap to the foundation the Laws and Constitution of the country, and by passing this Bill justify the people in any acts of violence and resistance to so unjust an infringement of their rights. If the poor man when in distress were thus deprived of his lawful means of relief, what principle in nature or justice was there to prevent his taking whatever he could lay his hands on to prevent himself from starving? Robbery and violence would then become a matte of dire necessity, the sacredness of property would no longer be protected, and how would the House like the idea of that? They were now about to dissolve the bonds of society; they were going to break faith with the poor man; and then what claim could they pretend to have upon him in return? But he was sure the Parliament could not pass this Bill, and if any future Parliaments should dare to do so, it would be a cry of war upon the cottage, which the hand of Providence would answer with a cry of war upon the princely mansion. It was said in Scripture, "Cursed be he who oppresseth the poor;" and how was he to be cursed? Why, "God shall smite him with the plagues of Egypt, the scab and the itch." Let the House read the Bible and this Bill at the same time, and then see if they could find it in their consciences to pass it. He was very sure, that if they did pass it, the curses he had announced to them would fall upon them, and that something more terrible would take place in the country than had been seen or heard of for the last two centuries.
§ Mr. Goring
said, with reference to the riots in Sussex to which the hon. Member 1053 had alluded, that it was true that the hon. Member opposite was not himself at Battle, which was one of the principal seats of these riots, but one of his emissaries was lecturing the people there. [Mr. Cobbett: Name him.] He could not name the individual, but it was a notorious fact; and, moreover, it was the opinion of the farmers of Sussex as well as the gentry, that the riots in Sussex were caused by the writings of the hon. Member. The hon. Member charged the Magistracy with having been in a conspiracy against him with regard to Goodman's confession, but he could assert, that the original confession of Goodman, undictated by any person, was made to the High Sheriff himself. It was remarkable that the riots took place almost always in counties where there was a difference between the wages of single and married men. He should support the third reading of the Bill, because he believed it would relieve the industrious labourer when he could not obtain work, and would drive the idle one to the workhouse, where he ought to go.
§ Mr. George F. Young
said, an endeavour was made by supporters of the Bill to represent its opponents as favourable to the abuses of the present system of Poor-laws. That was unworthy and unjustifiable. Though he opposed the present Bill, yet he would gladly correct the abuses of the Poor-laws. The present measure went far beyond the necessities of the case, and no measure should receive the sanction of that House that was not based on the exigences of the times and the circumstances of the country. The friends of the Bill failed to prove any necessity for giving the Commissioners such vast and unconstitutional power, enabling them to interfere at their own mere discretion in parochial affairs; and of compelling unions of parishes, however ill assorted those unions might be, or unwilling the parishioners might be, to form a union. It was said by the advocates of the Irish Coercion Bill, and that Bill was the only parallel to be found in the history of modern legislation to the present Bill, that the powers conferred by that Bill were to be exercised only according to the necessities of the case; and only exercised within the disturbed districts. But the Commissioners under the present Bill were exonerated from any such salutary restrictions, and they might interfere as they pleased with every parish in the kingdom. 1054 He would support the proposition that the Bill be read a third time that day six months.
§ Lord Eastnor
said, that if this Bill were a hard and grinding measure on the poor, he would be the last man to assent to it. As assent to any such measure would be unworthy the character of the English gentleman. But he believed that the Bill did not deserve such a character. He would not, however, have risen but to make one remark, which appeared to him to be called for by what had just occurred. He could not deprecate in language too strong, the conduct of any individual who should endeavour to make the poor of England discontented with their situation, or quote Scripture to justify any acts of violence which discontentment might drive them to commit. Taken by itself, the measure might, perhaps, be in part objectionable; but taking into consideration the extent of the necessity, he was of opinion, that it was calculated to do much good, and he should, therefore, give it his support.
§ Mr. Fryer
said, the Bill was intended to overturn the whole system of Poor-laws, and yet the noble Lord had said, that it was the boon which he had in store for the landlords. He refused them the repeal of the Malt-tax, and told them to wait for his Poor-law Bill, which was to give them so much relief. Well, the Poor-law Bill was brought forward, and see what a measure of relief to the agricultural interest! There was no possibility of reducing the poor-rates, without reducing the poor man's allowance. And was that a mode of relief to which that House would consent? Should not the noble Lord have inquired why it was, that the poor man could not get employment? How was it that the farmer was able to employ them before? Was it not because their contracts were made in paper and paid in gold? But the promoters of this Bill would be disappointed. It would be opposed through the country. When Ministers would have gotten that Bill, they would find they had caught the Bottle Imp; they had compassed their own destruction. Unions would spring up through the country, and they would be justified. It was to no purpose, however, speaking against the Bill, for the House were determined to carry it. But he could tell them that their workhouses 1055 would be so many gaols, and their emigration another name for transportation. Let them repeal those Acts which prevented Englishmen from competing in the market with foreigners, and they would have a Van Diemen's Land in England. "Abolish your wicked and cursed Corn-laws," continued the hon. Member—"Rig your ships and navigate them, and that is the way to make England happy and prosperous. No; but there you are (addressing the Ministerial Benches), and you will not be long there. You court the Tories and every other party, but never think of courting the people of England. The noble Lord puts on his tail in Downing-street, and comes forth like a great kangaroo, followed by his wrigling majorities to pass such Bills as this. As long as the Corn-laws continue, I shall feel bound to declare, to all the agricultural districts, that the base oligarchy of the landlords are bound to support the poor, whether they have or have not work for them."
§ Lord Althorp
wished to make a few remarks on the different statements made by hon. Gentlemen with reference to this measure. He was called upon in the first instance to state the grounds upon which he believed that this Bill would operate for the improvement of the condition of the labouring classes. Now, he thought, that no man who considered what were and had been the bad consequences of the allowance-system in the administration of the Poor-law, could come to any other conclusion than that the effect of that system was no other than to reduce the wages of labour to the lowest point at which (under the allowance-system) the Magistrates thought a family could possibly be supported; and that the adoption of this principle had been, and must necessarily be, to degrade the labourer in every part of the country where the practice prevailed. The object of the Bill was to put an end to the allowance-system. He knew, that his hon. friend who had moved the Amendment, said, that many persons thought the measure could not be carried into effect without a collision with the people; but he would have been sorry to support any measure which, in his opinion, could lead to such consequences. He did not, however, see any reason to expect such a result. There might undoubtedly be some danger from effecting sudden changes, without keeping up the 1056 means of mitigating at the same time any difficulty which might arise; or if they went to deprive persons of that relief to which they considered themselves fairly entitled. But the very object of the alterations which had been made by him, gave a discretion to the Commissioners to dispense relief when any sudden changes might make it necessary to do so. This would enable the Bill to come into effect gradually, and without danger. Amongst other things it had been stated by the hon. Baronet who had seconded the Amendment, as an argument against the Bill, that a great number of petitions had been presented from a number of large towns hostile to the Bill—that many of these towns were the largest in the country—and that the petitions were signed by 9,000 names! Now, if to all these petitions there were attached no more than 9,000 signatures, he did not think that was a strong proof that the Bill was unpopular in the country generally. The hon. member for Oldham had opposed this Bill, and had stated that its object, and that of the framers of the measure, was to deprive the country of the Poor-laws. He must positively deny, that there was any such object in view. And what were the grounds upon which the hon. Gentleman stated this? Why, he declared, that in three divisions of the country he found the labourers of England better off than they were in any other part of Europe; and that it was in consequence of there being no Poor-laws in Ireland, that the labourers in that country were in so bad a situation! It might be questionable whether there should or should not be a system of Poor-laws introduced into Ireland; but he did not think that any man had a right to say, that the state of the labouring poor there arose front the want of Poor-laws. Some hon. Gentlemen who were most anxious for the happiness of the people, so far from thinking the Poor-laws would do good, thought they would do harm. The hon. member for Oldham had described the comfort of the labouring classes, and he wished he could confirm the statement which had been made. He was, however, glad to hear the hon. Gentleman make such a declaration, because it certainly was not consistent with some statements which the hon. Member had previously made. He wished, indeed, the case were so generally —he wished that every agricultural la- 1057 bourer had his cottage and garden; but unfortunately those who knew anything of the country, knew that the very reverse was the case, especially in places where the Poor-laws were and had been in most active operation. Why, he would ask, did the hon. Gentleman say, that the intention of the framers was to deprive the country of the Poor-laws? He did not, indeed, see how this assertion bore upon the opinion of the hon. Gentleman; for the first reason which he had urged in opposition to the Bill was, that the poor-rates were now less than they had been last year. He could not see how this could be brought forward in support of the opinion of the hon. member for Oldham, for it had nothing to do with the question. Again, the hon. Gentleman spoke of the instructions which had been given to the person who framed the Bill. Now, in that, as on former debates, every hon. Member who had spoken against the Bill, had argued the matter as if its provisions were precisely the same as those of the Report of the Poor-law Commissioners; but the Bill was not the same—it was not so extensive, for instance, with reference to the workhouse system. It had been stated, that there was a surplus population in this country, and that such a surplus was inconsistent with the use of workhouses. There might be a surplus population, he believed, in some places; but he confessed he doubted the fact in the majority of cases. They knew, that in some parts of the country there was a difficulty in getting in the harvest, unless by the aid of Irish labourers; and he, therefore, could not think the case which had been assumed, by any means proved that there was a surplus population in the country. But allowing that there was this surplus population, he did not see that such a matter was inconsistent with the employment of workhouses, as a part of the means of relief. If they looked to counties where the workhouse system had been known, in part of the county of Nottingham for instance, there undoubtedly appeared to be a surplus population. Before that system existed, the effect was such as he had stated. At first, many persons came into the workhouse, but the number was now very small indeed; and the labourers were in a better condition. With respect to the situation of the aged, the sick, and infirm, he felt that every attention ought to be paid to 1058 them. It would be very harsh, and wholly inconsistent with the principle of this Bill, or with the law of the country, if every attention were not paid to their wants; but he did not see why it should be inconsistent with their comfort to place them in workhouses, in cases where the parties were unable through themselves, or their friends, to gain the means of support. It had been stated, that no hon. Gentleman who opposed the Bill defended the whole system of Poor-laws, as at present administered. The allowance system had been defended; but the hon. Gentleman said, he did not defend Mr. Sturges Bourne's Act. He did not, however, record this as one of the abuses of the Poor-laws; but every one of the complaints of the Administration of the Poor-laws had been separately advocated, though no hon. Gentleman attempted to defend the system altogether. Some hon. Gentlemen objected to this Bill, because it was a departure from the Act of 43rd Queen Elizabeth; and something had been said relative to that Act by the hon. member for West Kent. But the principle of that Act was, to confine the relief to be given to the poor, the aged, and the infirm; and for those persons it was undoubtedly necessary to provide. The House would find, that there was in this Bill no departure from the principle of the Act 43rd of Queen Elizabeth. The object of the Bill was, that no person should receive relief without being placed in a worse situation than the independent labourer, which, as he apprehended, was really the principle upon which the Act of Elizabeth proceeded. But the hon. member for Worcester said, it was not right to go back to the law of Elizabeth, because the situation of the country was now very different. This then was quite inconsistent with the opinions of those who thought that this was a departure from that Act. He believed that in passing this measure they only acted upon the principle of the Act of Queen Elizabeth, but from the altered circumstances of the country, the details were of necessity different in many respects. He did not think, that many of the alterations which had been made in the Bill had been suggested by the opponents of the measure. Alterations had been made by hon. Gentlemen supporting the provisions of his Bill; but certainly the House was 1059 not so inclined to adopt the suggestions of those who differed on the principle of the measure, though he himself had been ready to meet the views of those who generally approved of the Bill. The question for the House to decide was, whether any other measure which could be devised would effect the object sought to be attained? Whether they should continue the present system of Poor-laws, or adopt this measure? It was said, that great discretionary powers were given to the Commissioners. Undoubtedly there were; and it was necessary to give them, because if they attempted, under the present administration of the Poor-laws, to fix any precise time at which these changes should take place, the effect might have been in the first place (though he believed such a plan would have been impracticable) to create danger. But by giving these discretionary powers of bringing this measure gradually into operation, the effect (as he hoped) would be, to diminish the Poor-rates, but not to diminish the subsistence to the labourer. He believed that this measure would go to improve the condition of the labouring classes, while the present system went to destroy their independence and to demoralize them. It was asked how this Bill would do good to the landed interest if it did not diminish the amount of money to be given to the labourer. It would improve the condition of the farmer, by improving the habits of the labourer. The money which was given to the independent labourer as wages ensured better work on his part, than when half his earnings were doled out to him as an allowance from the parish. The hon. member for Wiltshire had made a statement in reference to the average rate of wages, in different places; but he could say, that statement was incorrect. The average rate of wages in the north of Nottinghamshire was 13s. per week; in Northampton, 9s., which gave nothing like the sums per year stated by the hon. Member. He would not however further detain the House on the present occasion. The House having supported this Bill by large majorities in its various stages up to that moment, he hoped that on this occasion of the third reading they would give the measure the same support.
§ Mr. Leech
said it was impossible, in reflecting on the nature of this Bill, not to feel that it must render the breach be- 1060 tween the rich and the poor wider than it had ever hitherto been. A great hardship would be inflicted on married men if sent to a distance from their homes, and subjected to the control of strangers. He recommended the postponement of the Bill till the next Session of Parliament, and in the mean time advised, that the amended Bill should be distributed throughout the country, that the sense of the people might be collected upon it, after the most mature consideration. He deprecated as much as any man the present mode of administering the Poor-laws; it was directly at variance with the principle of the law of Elizabeth; and the cause of that deviation arose from the very high price which wheat obtained many years ago, when it varied from 30l. to 45l. per load. The mischief was occasioned by the farmers at that time not advancing the wages of their men in proportion to the advance in the price of wheat; which induced the Magistrates, from humane motives, to adopt the allowance system. He was of opinion, that great evils would arise out of the Bill, particularly in respect to workhouses. He was sorry to vote against it; but it professed to take away power from the local authorities, and place it in the hands of strangers; and, much as he disliked the present system, owing to the maladministration of it, he would rather go on with that than have this Bill.
said, that as this Bill did not relate to that part of the British empire with which he was more immediately connected, he should not have said one word upon this motion, except that he wished to state why he voted against the third reading of this Bill. He did so because it did away with personal feelings and connexions, because it erected an unconstitutional tribunal, and because it gave an accumulation of votes to the wealthy over the poorer classes. Notwithstanding, he felt that the evils of the present system were great, this most unconstitutional measure would, in his opinion, increase the evils.
§ Sir Charles Burrell
could not agree with the noble Lord the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that there was anything in this Bill which went hand in hand with the 43rd of Elizabeth.
§ The House divided on the original question:—Ayes 187; Noes 50; Majority 137.
§ Bill read a third time, and various Amendments were proposed; some were added to the Bill, others were rejected, and the Bill was finally passed.
|List of the NOES.|
|Attwood, M.||O'Connell, Maurice|
|Attwood, T.||O'Connell, Morgan|
|Bainbridge, E. T.||O'Connell, J.|
|Baines, E.||Parker, Sir H.|
|Baring, H.||Potter, R.|
|Blackstone, W. S.||Rider, T.|
|Brotherton, J.||Robinson, G. R.|
|Burrell, Sir C.||Ruthven, E.|
|Cobbett, W.||Scholefield, J.|
|Duffield, T.||Somerset, Lord G.|
|Duncombe, W.||Spry, S. T.|
|Egerton, W. T.||Stanley, E.|
|Faithfull, G.||Thicknesse, R.|
|Fielden, J.||Tower, C. T.|
|Fitzsimon, C.||Vigors, N. A.|
|Fryer, R.||Vyvyan, Sir R.|
|Guise, Sir B. W.||Walter, J.|
|Gully, J.||Whalley, Sir S.|
|Halcomb, J.||Williams, Col.|
|Halse, J.||Willoughby, Sir H.|
|Hardy, J.||Wilks, J.|
|Hughes, H.||Young, G. F.|
|Leech, J.||Benett, J.|
|Lister, E. C.||Hodges, T. L.|
|Lowther, Hon. Col.||PAIRED OFF.|
|O'Connell, D.||Tennyson, Charles|