HC Deb 02 July 1845 vol 81 cc1418-28

House in Committee on the Field Gardens Bill.

Mr. Curteis

objected to the 1st Clause, which empowered three ratepayers of any parish to call a meeting on the subject of the allotment of land for gardens; he thought the number ought at least to be six.

Mr. Roebuck

understood that the Government entertained some objections to the Bill, on account of its interfering in some measure with the Poor Law. He wished, therefore, to know whether the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department was prepared to give his sanction to it?

Sir J. Graham

said, that the hon. Member who had brought in the Bill had substituted the highway rate instead of the poor rate, which removed the objections of the Government. The hon. and learned Gentleman was probably aware that since the last discussion on this Bill it had been re-committed, and all the clauses relating to the Poor Law had been withdrawn. To the 19th Clause he had several objections; but he had reason to believe that the hon. Gentleman who had introduced the Bill, was willing to consent to the omission of that clause. If he did consent to its omission, then his (Sir J. Graham's) insuperable objections to the measure would be removed. His mind, however, was undecided as to the practical utility of the Bill. If, however, the 19th Clause were omitted, he should have no objection to give the Bill his support.

Mr. M. Gibson

looked upon this Bill as a species of romance—there was nothing sound or real about it. It was not calculated to do good. The opinion of the ablest men in the country, including the Poor Law Commissioners and other public officers, was opposed both to the principle and details of the measure; and it was trifling with the time of the House to proceed with it any further, unless there was a bonâ fide intention to carry it into a law. If his hon. Friend the Member for Bath would move that the Chairman do report progress and ask leave to sit again that day six months, he would support the Motion.

Mr. Cowper

was willing to abandon the 19th Clause, on the intimation which he had received from the right hon. Gentleman. The object of the Bill was to provide allotments of ground for labouring men to cultivate as small gardens, so that they might have the benefit to be derived from such cultivation. The hon. Member for Manchester had designated the Bill as rather romantic than practicable. No doubt the measure was a mere romance to him; but it was not so to the poor man. In many parts of Leicestershire and Northamptonshire the poor were in the habit of employing their leisure time in cultivating gardens, and such a measure would be of vast benefit to them. He believed that all persons who were practically acquainted with the subject were in favour of garden allotments. Although it might be true, as had been stated by the hon. Member, that the Poor Law Commissioners were opposed to the measure, still it was a fact, that all who ware really acquainted with the allotment system and with political economy were in favour of it. The tendency of the Bill, so far from depressing wages, went to raise them; because, by giving the labourer the possession of a little property under his own control, it would make him more independent of his employer.

Mr. Roebuck

said, he should beg to move at once that the Chairman do report progress, and ask leave to sit again. There was no denying the fact, that the working man in England was maintained by wages; and they had the example of a neighbouring country, Ireland, where the cottier system prevailed, of the misery which was sure to follow were they to place the poor man here in a similar position. The labouring man could not serve so bad a master as himself, and for this reason, that he had not capital wherewith to pay wages to himself. He, the poor man, would not get sufficient wages under this Bill. It was merely intended, in the words of the hon. Member by whom it had been introduced, to give him an opportunity of devoting the fringes of his time to eke out his wages. He had no objection to the poor man employing his leisure moments to the best advantage; but what he wanted was, to protect the labourer against the person by whom he was employed. He should consider it a degradation to the working man to be obliged to accept these allotments as a part of his wages. The allotment system had been already tried, and had failed. Many hon. Gentlemen were familiar with the exertions which had been made by Mrs. Gilbert to establish it, but without success. A poor man was obliged to expend some 5l. or more, on entering into the possession of one of these gardens, and when he found himself afterwards unable to pay the rent of it, he was left no alternative but to go to the workhouse. He had at least twenty cases of this nature sent to him; and he would certainly have brought them down to the House, if he had thought the measure would have been proceeded with that evening. He would pledge himself, however, to bring them before the House at another time.

Mr. Sharman Crawford

thought the hon. Member (Mr. Cowper) had been very unfairly treated in having his Bill allowed to advance to the present stage without these objections being urged against it. He believed that the House would make a move in the right direction in giving the labourer some other means of subsistence, and not leave him entirely dependent on wages. He did not understand what the hon. and learned Member for Bath meant by reprobating the idea of a poor man being his own master; but certainly the course which the hon. and learned Gentleman advocated would go, in his mind, to make the labourer a slave. He objected to the Bill as not going far enough, because it limited the quantity of land to be given to the poor man. He considered the granting of half an acre of land to a labouring man as a beneficial course; but he would much prefer seeing him get an entire acre. The Bill of the hon. Member would, therefore, as far as it went, have his warmest support.

Mr. Roebuck

wished to know on what ground the hon. Member charged him with being desirous to make slaves of the poor men, or what act of his life could allow such a construction to be put upon his conduct? He was merely anxious to save the people of England from being reduced to the position to which the Irish poor had been brought by the cottier farm system.

Mr. S. Crawford

explained. He did not intend to make any charge against the hon. and learned Member, but had merely stated what he believed to be the necessary effect of the policy which the hon. and learned Gentleman advocated.

Mr. Mangles

expressed his perfect readiness to meet the case on which the hon. and learned Member for Bath rested his argument. He did not know on what ground the hon. and learned Member should lay down as a principle that the labouring man should live by his wages, when it was well known to all who were conversant with the subject, that, in the agricultural districts, the labourers were unable to get wages. He did not state whether the facts which he mentioned supported the views of the hon. Member near him (Mr. Cowper), or of the hon. and learned Member for Bath; but he stated what he knew of his own knowledge to be the case. It was only last Sunday fortnight that he met one of the best labouring men of his own parish, who told him that he had been unable to get a single day's work in the preceding week. The hon. and learned Member could look out of his window in some of the fashionable squares, and tell the poor that they should live on their wages; but would he tell them, at the same time, how they were to get any wages? The hon. and learned Gentleman only showed how little he knew of the state of the agricultural districts when he put forward such arguments. He would undertake to show, in opposition to the statement of the hon. and learned Gentleman, that one of the greatest evils of the present condition of the agricultural labourers, was the utter hopelesness, as a general rule, of their raising themselves in their position. He was convinced that there might be fifty shopkeepers' apprentices, or fifty tradesmen or individuals in the other classes, who would be found to have raised themselves to a superior condition, for every one similar case among the agricultural classes. He could show five men who had raised themselves above their position, and who were now small farmers in comfortable circumstances, by means of the allotment system, for every one agricultural labourer that the hon. and learned Gentleman could produce who had so raised himself by wages alone. In fact, he never met a single instance of the latter kind in the whole course of his experience, and he did not believe there was one in evistence. He would go farther, and say, that he never knew an instance of a land-holder who had tried the allotment system, and had let the allotment gardens at a fair and reasonable rent, who did not speak well of the system, and find it succeed. He might allude to the allotments made by Mr. Henry Drummond, in Surrey, as a proof of this fact. One poor man under that gentleman, to whom he had been speaking on the subject, had so far progressed in the world under it as to have now in his possession a farm of ten acres of land. And he did not believe there would be found any intelligent agricultural labourer who would not be found to speak favourably of the allotment system.

Mr. Escott

said, all the advantages of the allotment system on which the hon. Member who had just sat down, had spoken, were those which existed without the interference of the present Bill, and which he believed the Bill would tend to destroy. He objected to allotments, being made a parish system, and part of the parish payment to the poor. The moment they established a parochial Board to distribute these allotments, it would become a mere parish proceeding, and nothing else. His object in rising was to state, that he thought the proper course to take would be to endeavour to improve the Bill as much as possible in Committee, and then to divide upon the third reading. He would, therefore, advise the hon. and learned Member to withdraw his Amendment.

Sir James Graham

agreed with his hon. and learned Friend who had just sat down, that they ought to proceed in Committee upon the Bill. It was a matter of serious importance, and one for the fullest deliberation, whether the measure now offered for their adoption was conducive to the improvement of the agricultural labourers or not. With several of the leading maxims laid down by the hon. and learned Member for Bath, he entirely concurred. He thought that the labouring population of this country, whether engaged in rural or manufacturing employment, must depend for support mainly on the fruits of their labour and industry derived from the capital of others; and he could not agree with the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. S. Crawford), that labourers would make a happy exchange if they were to become no longer dependent on wages, but on the profits of rural holdings of land. He thought the great misfortune of the country from which that hon. Gentleman came was, that there was no sufficient demand for labour there, and that the great body of the agricultural population were obliged to depend for their existence on small holdings of land, for the possession of which they were, therefore, obliged to make the greatest exertions. He also agreed with the hon. and learned Member, that experience was the test of theory; but these, after all, were not the points to be decided by the House, but whether gardens at some distance from the residences of the labourers, and given to them at a small rent, would not, under a proper system of management, be conducive to their improvement and welfare; whether such occupation, if tried upon a large scale, was likely to prove beneficial or otherwise; and whether it would have the effect of reducing the rate of wages. He was convinced that, if it were found practically to have the effect of reducing wages, the measure would be one of the most pernicious pieces of legislation that could be adopted; but he did not think it would have that result. Neither did he think, with the hon. Member by whom the Bill had been introduced, that the possessor of one of these holdings would be enabled to hold out against his employer for higher wages. He was satisfied that the notion of the measure having such a tendency would be a most fatal delusion to go forth among the people. Wages would not be raised by any such means; but, on the contrary, in any struggle between the labourer and his employer for higher wages, the man of capital would invariably be found to be the stronger party. But he was bound also to observe, that he heard with sorrow the fact stated by the hon. Member for Guildford, and which he had no reason to doubt, of an industrious agricultural labourer being left for an entire week at a time without any employment whatever. With respect to the Bill itself, he entertained great doubts whether all the benevolent hopes of the hon. Gentleman by whom it had been introduced would be realized; but still he thought that the system—all aid from the rates being withdrawn — might be advantageously brought into operation.

Mr. Trelawny

should support the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Bath, as it was an unnecessary interference with labour. The hon. Member for Hertford said, that the effect of this measure would be to raise wages. Now, he was satisfied that it would have the effect of lowering them.

Mr. Stuart Wortley

said, that there was no subject with respect to which the testimony was so conclusive as the success of the scheme. Wherever the plan had had been adopted, it had been successful, not merely as regarded the physical, but also the moral condition of the labourers.

Mr. Bright

felt bound to give his vote to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bath, as he was satisfied that the effect of the Bill would be to increase the dependence of the labourers, and therefore add to the mass of pauperism in the country districts. Attaching small gardens to the cottages of agricultural labourers was desirable; but the present measure was intended to afford aid to persons in a state of distress. He had no objection to giving relief, but let it be given under that name.

Mr. Darby

denied the correctness of the statement of the hon. and learned Member for Bath, that most of those persons to whom a few years ago allotments were made ultimately took refuge in the poor-house. He had the authority of the late Mrs. Gilbert, who had carried out this system so extensively, to state that the plan had been entirely successful, and that hardly a case ever occurred in which a person having an allotment was taken before a magistrate on any ground of complaint. He was convinced from his own observation that the plan had been productive of much good, and had bettered the condition of the labouring classes. He, however, preferred having a volun- tary system of allotments, and he certainly should resist any attempt to introduce a compulsory system into his own parish.

Lord Clements

objected to the Bill. He considered that the adoption of the system of conacre in Ireland had been productive of a great portion of the distress which unhappily prevailed in that country.

Mr. Stansfield

thought that the whole success of the scheme depended upon its being voluntary. He approved of the principle of allotting garden fields; but it was most objectionable to adopt a system of enforced charity.

Mr. Henley

thought that the Bill held out expectations to the labouring classes which it was certain never could be realized. He should support the Amendment.

Mr. W. Cowper

denied that the effects of the measure were such as had been described by the hon. and learned Member for Bath; on the contrary, all experience showed that the result of the system, wherever it was adopted, was to ameliorate the condition of the labouring classes; and its tendency, so far from lowering wages, was to increase them. Complaints had been made that there was a compulsory interference with the landowners; now it was notorious that in many parts of the country the labourers were most anxious to obtain allotments of land, but they could not get them from the landowners; therefore, the voluntary system in such districts would be perfectly inoperative. It should be recollected that this was not to be a gift on the part of the landlord, but the full value was to be paid for the land.

Mr. Newdegate

rather concurred with the hon. Member for Rochdale, who wished to give the labourer some degree of independence, than with those who desired to keep him in a condition of entire subservience.

The Committee divided on the Question, that the Chairman report progress:—Ayes 19; Noes 42: Majority 23.

Mr. Henley

moved, that the qualification of the wardens should be their being rated to the poor 10l.

Mr. Cowper

objected to the Amendment.

Mr. Wakley

said, he would support the original proposition.

The Committee divided on the Question, that the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question:—Ayes 26; Noes 17: Majority 9.

On the 5th Clause, which constitutes trustees for the administration of the field gardens,

Mr. Collett

objected to the officiating minister being appointed in that capacity, and moved that the words "officiating minister" be omitted.

Mr. Cowper

resisted the omission, and

the Committee divided on the Question, that the words stand part of the clause:—Ayes 37; Noes 7: Majority 30.

On Clause 14,

Mr. Milner Gibson

hoped that the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government would assist the Committee with his advice upon this Bill. The right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary had lent every assistance in his power. The Bill before them he (Mr. M. Gibson) had every reason to believe was opposed by the Poor Law Commissioners. They would do but little good to the poor by the allotment system. The right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) was not present at the early part of the night's proceedings, and the legislation of the Committee had partaken of a romantic and sentimental character, and his advice would be very seasonable. He did not think the right hon. Baronet would consent to the introduction into this country of a system which would reduce the labouring people of this country to a condition similar to that of a large portion of the Irish population. Let the right hon. Baronet give his advice now, and not by his silence, perhaps, hold out expectations to the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Cowper), which expectations might, after all, never be realized.

Sir R. Peel

thought, that it would be premature for him to discuss, now that the Bill was in Committee, whether or not it was desirable that it should finally pass into a law. He had consented to the Bill going into Committee, under the impression that the views of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cowper) were pure and benevolent in undertaking to bring in a Bil which he thought would conduce to the welfare and comfort of the labouring classes; and these views entitled the Bill to a favourable consideration, in order to ascertain whether it could not be brought into a shape which would make it consonant with the public interests. He (Sir R. Peel) was not prepared to apply to the rural population of this country those principles of political economy which many hon. Gentlemen were disposed to do. He thought that giving the labouring classes small allotments of land might conduce to their welfare and comfort. If they found that the possession of a small quantity of land conduced to the immediate happiness and welfare of these classes, he was very much disposed to look to the immediate practical benefits which would accrue, rather than to the remote tendencies which political economy was disposed to attribute to such a system. He thought that such was the principle on which most landed proprietors practically acted on this question; and if they found that the labourer, by cultivating his small piece of ground, could supply his family with some of the necessaries of life, what the tendency of that might be a hundred years hence he did not know; but they would find that, during their lives at least, they would promote the happiness of the labouring poor, wean them from degraded habits and from vice, and very much, in other respects, add to their welfare. Should the Bill pass through Committee, he should be sorry afterwards to find that considerations of public interest should arise to prevent its passing, and he hoped that hon. Gentlemen would not now throw any impediment in the way of perfecting the measure as much as possible.

Mr. Bright

said, that the voluntary system of arrangement would do all the good which was expected to accrue from the allottment system, without doing any of the evils which he thought that system would introduce, He did not see how the hon. Member for Hertford could persevere with this Bill, and try to carry it through a third reading. It could not, by any possibility, be put into action; and if it passed the House, it would to all intents and purposes fall as dead as if it had been thrown out upon the third reading.

Mr. Cowper

said, that in parishes where it was wanted, the Bill would be put in force. Where it was not wanted, it would not be enforced.

Mr. Wakley

thanked the right hon. Secretary of State for the Home Department for the manner in which he had assisted in this matter. The hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. M. Gibson) made an appeal to the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, and he had got his answer, and he hoped the hon. Gentleman was satisfied. He hoped also that the hon. Gentleman would now give his support to the measure. He was surprised at the part taken by the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Bright), and at the objection raised by him. He had always understood the object of the hon. Gentleman and his Friends was to give increased food to the people; and yet he now came forward, and in reference to this Bill, which would have the effect of increasing the food of the labouring classes, advocated the voluntary system. If the principle of the Bill could be extended, and more than half an acre of ground allotted, he believed it would tend greatly to improve the condition of the agricultural labourer. If the Bill had been in any way damaged in its efficiency during its progress through Committee, he hoped the Government would stand forward at a later stage, and assist in restoring it to the shape in which it had been originally brought in by the hon. Member.

Clauses agreed to. Remaining clauses agreed to. The House resumed. Report to be received.

For the remainder of the evening, the House was engaged with the Lunatic Asylums and Pauper Lunatics Bill, which went through Committee, and with other business which occasioned no debate.

The House adjourned at two o'clock.