HC Deb 04 June 1834 vol 24 cc147-58
Sir Charles Burrell

having moved the Order of the Day for the second reading of the Labourer's Employment Bill, expressed his sincere regret at finding that it was likely to be opposed. He hoped he should be able to induce the noble Lord opposite to allow the Bill to be read a second time, and committed, as he thought the most convenient course to pursue would be to take the debate on the principle of the measure after it came out of the Committee in an amended shape. The present measure was merely a continuation of the Bill of last year, which had been most beneficial in its operation. A petition had been presented that night, in favour of its reenactment, signed by all the Magistrates belonging to the western district of Sussex, with the exception of one, and that Magistrate declined to attach his signature to the petition simply because he was not well enough acquainted with the subject. He held a similar petition in his hand from the inhabitants of Farnham, in Surrey, to which he begged to call the attention of the House. The clerk, on the call of the hon. Baronet, read the petition. He thought the statement contained in that petition would be sufficient to satisfy the House of the great benefit which had attended the operation of the Labourers' Employment Bill. He had paid some attention to the manner in which that Bill had worked; and he knew that certain parishes had, by the application of that measure, succeeded in reducing the number of their unemployed labourers from 536 to 243. The Poor-rates had also been reduced from 700l. 8s. 10d. per month to 299l.15s. 7d.; being a diminution of no less an amount than 400l. 13s. 3d. per month, or about 4,897l. a-year. He thought he need scarcely state any further proof of the beneficial operation of the Labourers' Employment Bill. He knew that the Poor-law Commissioners had expressed an objection to the Bill, on the ground of its not being in unison with the original intention of the Poor-laws; but he believed that the plan they recommended of employing paupers in Poor-houses was not less at variance with the principle of the 43rd of Elizabeth. Besides, the fact of Mr. Sturges Bourne, a gentleman so well acquainted with the operation of the Poor-laws, and whose opinion on any point connected with them was well entitled to respect, having refused to sign a paper which had been transmitted to the Exchequer by the other Poor-law Commissioners, was a circumstance which he thought told very much in favour of the present measure. The case of the parish of Pulborough had been referred to by the Poor-law Commissioners, as demonstrating the injustice which the present Bill was calculated to inflict; but, to prove what an erroneous inference those learned Commissioners had drawn from the facts of the case, he would take the liberty of reading to the House the opinion of the reverend Mr. Austin on the subject. The hon. Baronet read the following letter, which was laid before the Select Committee on Emigration in 1827, by Walter Burrell, Esq.:— Sir,—I send you the expenses of the parish of Pulborough, in the county of Sussex, for one year. You will see, that 318l. of the Poor-rates are thrown away on idle men on the roads; and that, in five years, including the highway rates, 3,552l. have been expended on the roads, of which 1,932l. have been taken from the Poor-rates. In the years ending April, 1824 and 1825, the occupiers of land employed one man on their farms for every 25l. a-year rating in the poor-book, which continued partly through the year 1826, except by one person occupying 400 acres, who will not take his proportion, which has induced the other occupiers of land to discontinue their proportion: and we have now ninety-five men on the roads, many of them without tools. Is it not worth considering whether the determination of a large majority of a parish to employ the agricultural labourers in any way which shall not favour one more than another, with the approbation of the Magistrates in Petty or Quarter Sessions, might not be made legally binding on the minority? I am aware much care must be taken to prevent an unequal pressure, especially on small parishes. I am, Sir, with great respect, Your obedient humble servant, J. AUSTIN, Rector. Pulborough, Dec. 14,1826. In his opinion, any enactment compelling labourers, who were thrown out of employment by temporary illness, or same accidental circumstance, to go to the poor-house would be regarded with an ill feeling by the poor; and he therefore thought, that those gentlemen who were opposed to the Poor-laws' Amendment Bill ought to support the present Bill, as he was confident it would be found to act in some degree as a safety-valve to the measure of Government. What he wanted to see was the labourer employed and well paid, and good will and harmony prevailing in the agricultural parishes of the country; and, believing that the present Bill would tend to produce that desirable state of things, he trusted that the House would consent to read the Bill a second time. The hon. Baronet concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill, which Motion having been seconded,

Mr. Leech

, as a practical agriculturist, could speak to the beneficial effects of the former Labour-rate Act, the renewal of which merited the approbation of the House. The Bill was only a permissive Bill, and no parish need adopt it unless three-fourths of the rate-payers in vestry assembled were desirous so to do. It would in no case compel any one to pay more than he at present paid; and it had the great advantage of taking the labourers from unprofitable labour, and employing them in the improvement of the soil by engaging them in purely agricultural labour, thereby rendering them much more moral in their conduct, industrious in their habits, and more comfortable in their families, than when employed in parish work; for it was well known, that very little attention was paid to the labourers engaged in parish work; and they were consequently enabled to pass much their time in beer-houses. The former Bill had proved highly satisfactory to the labourers themselves as well as to the farmers. He therefore trusted, that the House would allow the Bill to go into Committee, where any improvements that could be suggested might be introduced.

Mr. Slaney

thought the Bill would be prejudicial in its effects. There was this difference between the Bill passed in the last Session and the present Bill—that whereas the former measure required, previous to its application to any parish, that the consent of three-fourths of the rate-payers should be obtained, the Bill now under consideration made the consent of three-fourths of those in vestry assembled only requisite; thus putting it in the power of a few busybodies in a parish to force the measure upon their fellow ratepayers. In the former Bill, a clause was introduced, providing that the measure should not apply to any parish in which the Poor-rates were not above 5s. in the pound on the rack-rent, thereby exempting from its operation all parishes in which good management prevailed. In the present Bill, however, that salutary provision was entirely omitted. But he rested his main objection to the Bill on the ground, that its provisions were contrary to all principle, inasmuch as they compelled a man to employ a certain number of labourers whether he needed them or not. He thought, that the Bill would prove mischievous, inasmuch as it gave the Magistrates too great a power of interference, and placed the bad and good labourer on the same level. The Poor-law Commissioners were decidedly opposed to the principle of the Labourer's Employment Bill; and seeing that a measure founded on their report, and calculated to remove the evils of which the hon. Baronet complained, was now before the House, he should certainly vote against the second reading of the present Bill. In addition to the other disadvantages which he had mentioned, he might state that, in the course of time, he had no doubt it would have the effect of doubling the rates which it was the object of the Bill to lighten. On these grounds, he should give the Bill his decided opposition.

Mr. Denison

expressed his concurrence in all that had fallen from the hon. Baronet (Sir Charles Burrell) as to the benefits which might be, and had been, derived from the application of the principle of this Bill. He could state that, in sixteen parishes in Surrey, where it had been applied, the Poor-rate had been reduced one-half; the number of paupers had been diminished in the same proportion; besides which, the condition of the land had been considerably improved. Under these circumstances, he hoped the Bill would receive the sanction of the House. If there were any objectionable parts in it, they might be modified in the Committee. It should be recollected that it was only an experiment, and intended to be temporary; but even as a temporary measure, it would tend to improve the operation of the Poor-laws' Amendment Bill.

Mr. Heathcote

, having presented a number of petitions to the House in favour of this measure from the county which he represented, felt himself called upon to say a few words in support of it, which he considered well worthy the attention of the House, from the many advantages that were likely to arise from it. One great comfort that it would produce to the country generally was, the application of a much greater quantity of labour to land than could be afforded at present. This would occur by the removal of all the useless labour that was now thrown away upon roads to the cultivation of the land. He approved too, of the principle maintained by this Bill, that the majority in each parish was to bind the minority, if they chose, to regulate the labour of the parish under the provisions of the Bill, or on the principles which it laid down. He had no doubt that this measure would prove a most useful auxiliary to the Poor Laws' Amendment Bill.

Mr. Robert Palmer

considered it very desirable that the inhabitants of a parish should be compelled to pay the sums which they might agree to pay, for it was well known, that many persons in a parish, after having voluntarily agreed to pay a certain sum towards the labour fund, had, in less than a month after, refused to continue their payments. He approved of the general principle of the Bill, and, feeling assured that it would also work well in practice, he should give it his support.

Colonel Torrens

viewed this Bill as most erroneous in principle and mischievous in practice. There could be nothing just in compelling people to pay for labour over and above what they required. A parish might as well be called upon at once to support a thousand or any other given number of labourers, although it might not require half that number. This was nothing better than an agrarian law, or at least was calculated to lead to such a law. Nothing could be worse in principle than accumulating idle labourers in a parish, and deducting from the productive industry of others to support them. If there were a surplus of labourers in a parish, the proper way to deal with them would be, if they could not be employed on the land, to apply them to the increase of the trade and commerce of the country. Convinced that this measure would prove to be practically injurious, he should give it his decided opposition.

Mr. Baring

would look rather to the manner in which this Bill was likely to work than to any general principle which it might involve. He had inquired into this subject, and found that there were various opinions in different parts of the country. Some of the witnesses who had been examined before the Committee, had spoken most favourably of the measure, whilst others disapproved of its practical results. He entertained no doubt of its beneficial effects in parishes that were purely agricultural, and where no other species of labour was going on; but he considered it oppressive to make small tradespeople pay for labour which they did not want. He should have been glad if his hon. friend had not for the present pressed this Bill until the Poor Law Amendment Bill had been disposed of, and it could be known what was done with that important measure. He could have wished, that his hon. friend had waited to see how that Bill would work, and, in the next Session, the measure might be more fitly introduced as an auxiliary, if it should be deemed requisite. He had undoubtedly found that, in some parishes in his own immediate neighbourhood, the Labour Rate Bill operated with a very beneficial effect, although this might not be generally the case throughout the country. He hoped, that his hon. friend would withdraw the Bill for the present.

Sir Harry Verney

said, that there were many parishes where there was but little occasion for labour, and it would be hard to compel small annuitants and others who did not require labourers to pay for their support. He was, however, favourable to the general principle of the Bill, but he felt some difficulty as to how he should vote, lest this measure should in any degree clash with the Poor Law Amendment Bill which the noble Lord near him had introduced, and which he hoped to see brought to a successful issue.

Mr. Halcombe

would support the Bill of the hon. Baronet. It was intended to be in operation only for one year, and would enable the farmers to get over the winter. He did not think it would in any respect interfere with the Bill of the noble Lord.

Mr. Poulett Scrope

was understood to say, that the Bill would be subversive of the benefits which were likely to accrue from the noble Lord's Bill for the Amendment of the Poor Laws. At any rate, the present Bill ought not to be passed till the Poor Law Amendment Bill had been carried into execution. The Labour-rate was nothing but the allowance system in disguise, and he felt compelled to give his opposition to this Bill.

Mr. Divett

said, that as nobody had yet moved, he would move, as an Amendment, that this Bill be read a second time this day six months. His reason for doing so was, that he considered it to be bad in principle, and likely to prove worse when reduced to practice. It confined in parishes a portion of labourers who could not be productively employed within them, and compelled individuals who did not want labour, and received no benefit from it, to employ their capital in support of it. The Labour-rate might have produced some benefit in a few parishes, but he believed that that benefit was more apparent than real, and that it would be productive of much future evil.

Mr. Warburton

seconded the Amendment. It was preposterous to introduce a Bill like this, which was at best a mere palliative, when there was before the House a comprehensive Bill for the Amendment of the Poor-laws founded on the best principles. This Bill was founded on the worst principles; and if there was no other objection to it, and there were many, he should oppose it on this ground—that it took away every incentive to good conduct, by placing the independent and industrious labourer on a level with the indolent and profligate pauper.

Mr. Hodges

supported the Bill. If he considered it likely to embarrass the noble Lord's Poor-laws' Amendment Bill, he should not give it his support, as he was quite sure that that Bill would have embarrassments enough of its own to contend with. He thought that this Bill would act beneficially in smoothing the way for the operation of that Bill, and he should therefore give it his support.

Lord Althorp

said, that this Bill was founded upon incorrect principles. He had formerly been ready to agree to it, incorrect as its principles were, because there was no effectual measure before Parliament for the Amendment of the Poor-laws. Until such a measure was introduced, he had always felt that they must adopt palliatives, to mitigate the evils of the present system. But now an efficient remedy was introduced; and he felt, that the Legislature would act more wisely by adopting that measure, which was correct in principle and complete in itself, than by adopting a palliative which was incorrect in principle and only partial in its operation. By this Bill all the rate-payers of the parish were compelled to employ all the labourers in that parish, whether they were desirous of doing so or not. They were compelled, too, to employ labour which could not produce them any return, because in the words of the Bill, it was "labour more than was wanted for the cultivation of the soil." He contended that this Bill was also objectionable on account of its having a rapid tendency to produce a maximum of wages. He admitted that in many parishes where this measure had been tried the amount of Poor-rates had apparently diminished. He said apparently, for the amount was not really less, if the parishioners were paying more for labour in another shape. The effect was the same upon them, whether their money was paid in the shape of Poor-rates or in the shape of increased wages for labour which yielded them no return. As far as labourers were concerned, this Bill injured the independent and industrious portion of them by giving them no advantage over the indolent and profligate portion; on the contrary, it took from the steady and hardworking man the benefit which he had hitherto derived from his industry and good conduct. The Bill was also objectionable as affecting the freedom of labour in the country. It was nothing but a palliative; and as there was a Bill before the House which he trusted would prove a complete remedy for most of the evils of the present system, he should certainly give his support to the Amendment.

Mr. Estcourt

said, that as the Bill of the noble Lord was not to come into operation till the next spring, no improvement in the condition of the poor could be expected during the next winter. If, therefore, the noble Lord had thought this a good measure, though founded on principles which he considered incorrect, before a general measure for the improvement of the Poor-laws was introduced, he ought to think it a good measure till that general measure came into practical operation. This Bill was only to have force for one year, and therefore he called upon the noble Lord not to abandon it until his own bill became practically the law. It appeared from the Agricultural Report that the farmers did not at present employ all the labour that was practically for the due cultivation of the soil—they only employed that quantity of labour which was just sufficient to keep it in a state of inferior cultivation. There were few parts of the country in which the surplus labour, as it was called, could not be beneficially employed in the cultivation of the soil. By the Poor-laws, as now administered, the farmers were compelled to maintain the surplus labourers without employment. By the present Bill the labourers would be kept in employment for their maintenance, and he would ask, was not that in itself an advantage? He admitted, that the principles of this Bill were not correct; but the state of the country was such, that the passing of this Bill was likely to prove a valuable auxiliary to the noble Lord's Bill during the ensuing winter.

Mr. Handley

was of opinion, that this Bill would be found productive of great advantage to the occupiers of land, as it would give them something for those rates for which they now got nothing. After the concurrent evidence given by every country Gentleman who had yet addressed the House, he did hope that the House would grant this Bill as a boon to the agricultural interest.

Sir George Strickland

supported the Amendment. This measure had been admitted by many to be bad in principle, but they supported it on the ground that it was a palliative for a worse state of things. In fact, it had been brought forward when things were in a bad state and there was no prospect of amending them. But the necessity for a measure of the kind being about to be obviated by the Bill to which the noble Lord had referred, he did not see why it should be forced on the country, when the effect of it was likely to be to bring them all to the same state of misery, pauperism, and destitution.

Mr. Curteis

said, that after what had fallen from the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he should feel it his duty to vote against this measure. It was quite true, that this measure was desired in West Sussex; but with regard to East Sussex, he would state that the same anxiety did not exist for such a measure. He agreed with the noble Lord that this measure should now be merged in the greater measure which had been introduced for the reformation of the administration of the Poor-laws.

Mr. Wilks

said, that if the Poor-law Bill had been passed and was in operation, producing the effects that were anticipated from it, the argument of the hon. Member who had last spoken might be a forcible one, but not till then; he was not disposed, when he found such concurrent testimony in favour of the practical effects of this measure, to cast it away either in favour of the theories of hon. Members, or in favour of the measure brought forward by the noble Lord. He supported this as a temporary measure, preparatory rather than detrimental to the measure brought forward by the noble Lord with regard to the administration of the Poor-laws.

Viscount Palmerston

said, that the very reasons assigned by the hon. Member for supporting this measure appeared to him arguments for opposing it. The hon. Member asked the House to agree to this measure because the measure of his noble friend (Lord Althorp) was not passed. Surely, seeing that that greater and more comprehensive measure was in course of being passed, it was unnecessary, indeed it would be mischievous, to adopt a measure like this, of an avowedly temporary nature, and which would, in fact, stand in the way of the beneficial effects to be anticipated from the Poor-laws Amendment Bill. One half, at least, of the hon. Members who had supported that Bill bad admitted, that it was erroneous in principle, but then, said they, let us adopt it as a palliative for the existing state of things. Now, if the proposed palliative was one that was congenial with, and would be conducive to, the great objects of the Poor-laws Amendment Bill, he could then very well understand the force of the arguments urged in favour of the adoption of such a measure by the House. But the present was a measure admitted even by its advocates to be founded on principles opposed to those contained in the Poor-laws Amendment Bill. Another class of the supporters of this Bill consisted of those who avowed that they had a great contempt for general principles and general theories, and that practical principles (such was always their expression) alone met with their regard. He would just observe, in reply to those Gentlemen who were so strenuous in objecting to general principles, and so self-complacently triumphant in their appeal to what they called "practical principles," that theories founded, as general theories were, upon large and extensive observation, were much more likely to be correct than theories like theirs, founded upon their own narrow and particular experience, and that they were themselves not less dealers in principles, and not less theory-mongers, because their principles were founded merely on particular observation, and because their theories were formed, not from general, but from confined and necessarily incorrect experience. This measure could not by any possibility have a tendency to lower the amount of the Poor-rates. It would take merely from the capital of the farmer in another shape, and under another name. The avowed intention in fact of the Bill was to compel the farmer to employ and to pay for labour that he did not want. Now the true principle, a principle surely it was not necessary to enlarge upon at this time of day was, that every man should be left to manage his concerns as he thought best for his own interest. Did any man suppose that the farmer would not employ as much labour as he would find profitable and for his interest? The truth was, that this measure would only take the capital out of the pockets of the farmers to employ it in forced labour. It was a Bill quite opposed in principle to the great measure that had been brought forward for the amendment of the Poor-laws. It was, he begged to remark, extremely incorrect to suppose that that great measure would not come into operation until March, 1835. The Poor-law Bill would come into operation immediately it was passed, with the exception of one portion of it, which had been already mentioned by his noble friend, and which would not come into operation until March, 1835.

Sir Charles Burrell

briefly replied; contending that the provisions of the Bill applied to clergymen and declaring that the arguments of the opponents of the measure had been already so triumphantly defeated, that it was unnecessary for him to go again over the same ground.

The House divided on the Amendment.—Ayes 80; Noes 36: Majority 44. The Bill put off for six months.

List of the AYES.
Astley, Sir J. Maxfield, Wm.
Attwood, M. O'Brien, C.
Barnard, E. G. Palmer, C. F.
Bulkeley, Sir R. W. Parker, Sir Hyde
Brocklehurst, J. Poulter, T. S.
Dare, R. W. Hall Price, R.
Duffield, Thomas Rider, Thomas
Estcourt, T. G. B. Rickford, Wm.
Faithfull, G. Rooper, J. B.
Fleetwood, P. H. Ruthven, E.
Godson, R. Tower, C.
Goring, H. D. Tyrrell, Charles
Grosvenor, Lord R. Walter, J.
Guise, Sir Wm. Watson, R.
Halcombe, John Wilks, John
Handley, B. TELLERS.
Henniker, Lord Burrell, Sir Charles
Hodges, T. L. Handley, H.
Hurst, R. H. PAIRED OFF.
Leech, John Holdsworth, Thomas
Mangles, James
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