HC Deb 07 May 1845 vol 80 cc244-9
Mr. Cowper

, in moving the Order of the Day for the House to go into Committee on the Field Gardens Bill, said, it was not his intention to proceed seriatim with the clauses of the Bill on the present occasion, but merely to take the step of going into Committee pro formâ, for the purpose of advancing a stage. The right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary had stated that he entertained very strong objections to those parts of the measure which proposed to give power to the Poor Law guardians to make advances out of the rates for the purposes of promoting the allotment system. He intended, therefore, to alter all that part of the Bill, so as to meet the objections of the right hon. Baronet. There were also contained in it three clauses which were intended to apply to local and general enclosures, and for which the Enclosure Bill introduced last year by the noble Lord the Member for Lincolnshire (Lord Worsley) had not provided. The Enclosure Bill which had been recently brought into the House by the noble Earl (Earl Lincoln) at the head of the Woods and Forests, did, however, make some such provision for the rights of the poor; and he should, therefore, await the result of the determination to which the House might come with respect to those clauses, before he struck them out of his Bill. If the House adopted the noble Earl's clauses, he should expunge his measure; but if not, he should still endeavour to obtain the sanction of the House to them. He begged, therefore, to move, that the House do go into Committee.

On the Question that the Speaker do now leave the Chair,

Mr. Hume

wished to ask whether the principle of the Bill went to give parishes the power of purchasing land? To that he had a very strong objection. If the hon. Member wished to proceed on the present occasion pro formâ merely to amend his Bill, he should not oppose him.

Mr. Roebuck

said, that the only way to amend the Bill was to strike it all out. He had a great objection to it. He thought it was altogether very suspicious, and, in order to end it at once, he should move as an Amendment that it be committed that day six months. It was far better to do so than to call hon. Members down to that House uselessly to discuss it a second time. He had attended there for the express purpose of entering upon the discussion of its merits, and he had hoped that the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary would have interfered with the further progress of the hon. Member's scheme. He was of opinion that the labouring man ought to be maintained by wages, and by no scheme purporting to have humanity for its basis. The Bill before the House would render the waste lands of England the means of supplying the deficiencies in the labourers' wages. If the hon. Member merely sought to afford means of recreation to the labouring classes, he might have been inclined to agree to it. But that was not his object. The Bill had no such tendency. The main object of the measure was to supply the deficiency in the wages of the labouring classes. It was a sort of supplementary poor law. It was an attempt to rob the poor under the guise of humanity. And how did the hon. Member propose to effect his purpose? He proposed to get a number of persons, inhabitants of a parish together, any three of whom might call a meeting to take into consideration the means of enclosing the waste or common lands belonging to the parish. They then were to have the power of appointing field wardens, who were to have power to take such land, and the Bill went on to enact that these persons might take for this purpose "any land or ground belonging to such parish, or held in trust by the churchwardens thereof, or by the guardians of the poor, and which should not be already cultivated as parish lands." That clause alone would show what the true character of the Bill was. It was not intended by the framers of it to touch the parish lands already under cultivation, for that would interfere with their own plan. But it was intended to take common or waste lands, or forest lands, and to lease them all out in the proportion of not more than half an acre for every householder in the parish who should not be rated to the poor at 10l. All this showed that the hon. Member's Bill was a substitute for the poor rate. The Bill did not say that every person having an allotment was to have an allotment of only half an acre to cultivate, but it said that the field wardens were to take only so many half-acres as there might happen to be shareholders in the parish not rated at the amount of 10l. The poor, therefore, were to have the land as a means of ekeing out their subsistence. But, for the well-being and the happiness of the country, the labouring classes ought to depend solely for their means of existence upon their wages, and not upon such an allotment system as that of the hon. Member. No doubt for the first three or four years there would be fancy fields looking like gardens, and apparently highly advantageous to the poor. Yes; but what would be the consequences? The population would be bound to the soil. The cottier system which prevailed in Ireland would become predominant in England, and the same unhappy results would spring from it. That Bill was the first step towards introducing the ruinous and depraved method of dealing with the land which had produced such evil results in Ireland; and he must say that it was the duty of the House, small as were the numbers present, to appeal to the Government, and to call in the aid of its Members, in order to put a stop to so direful a proceeding. Let them not be led away by any talk about the advantages and benefits of field gardens and allotments. Let them meet the question on its broad, its true principle, at once. He was the friend of the labouring classes, and it was to rescue them from the evil consequences of mock humanity that he took the course which he then did. He defied any one to look at the effects produced by the pauper allotments during the last twenty years, and not to see that the people had degenerated under their operation. Here and there, to be sure, was to be seen a pretty garden or a well-cultivated field-plot; and, on inquiry, people were told, "Oh! that's Mr. So-and-So's allotments. Only see how pretty they are, and how comfortable his poor tenants must be." But Mr. So-and-So first got a pretty heavy rent for his land, and next he would have to pay his labourers very small wages. And when the wretched pay which one of these labourers received from his employer was commented upon, the immediate answer was, "Oh! he's very well off. He's got an allotment of half-an-acre. He has plenty of garden stuff. He keeps three or four pigs, and has nothing to complain of." Now, what was the meaning of such philanthropy? A labourer was hired for so many hours to work for his master. He was then made to work so many more for himself, and under the plea of humanity, and of conferring a benefit upon him, his employer defrauded him of the wages fairly due for his labour, and quartered him upon his allotment by way of a recompense. The hon. Member concluded by moving that the House resolve itself into Committee that day six months.

Sir J. Graham

really hoped that the hon. and learned Member for Bath would not press his Amendment to a division, which would be a very unusual course; for when a Bill was not in the form in which an hon. Member himself recommended its adoption by the House, and asked the House to go into Committee pro formâ to introduce his Amendment, it was rarely that any hon. Member objected to that course. He had stated to the hon. Member for Hertford, both in public and in private, that there were certain clauses of the Bill to which he entertained insuperable objections. For instance, he could not consent to the 20th Clause, drawing funds from the poor rates, and charging those funds either with the first purchase or cultivation of the Field Gardens; to the 26th and 27th Clauses also, which were connected with the same funds, and gave a compulsory power to the field wardens, he had insuperable objection. The hon. Gentleman had stated that one of his objects in going into Committee was to remove these grounds of objection; and, if a division were pressed, he certainly could not vote for the Amendment of the hon. and learned Gentleman. But he was bound to state, when considering the nature of the objections on principle advanced by the hon. and learned Member for Bath, that he fully acquitted the hon. Member opposite of bringing forward this measure as a relief to the ratepayers, and as ancillary to the poor rates. He was sure that the motives of the hon. Member for Hertford were most generous and most kind; and that he intended the measure to afford substantial benefit to the labourers. He was sure that those were the hon. Member's motives; but what the effect of the measure would be was a matter of doubt. He knew that small patches of land attached and close to the cottages on a farm, would conduce, in a great degree, to the comfort and happiness of the labourers; but this was a proposition of another kind. The land might be situated at a distance from the cottages; the cultivation might occupy much of the labourer's time; and there was much danger that the system would partake, in a short time, of the characteristics of the cottier system in a sister isle, which had contributed so much to the misery of the population there. He must also remind the hon. Member of the persons who would be the field wardens in the agricultural districts. They were those who were the employers of labour; they were those who entered the market of labour for the purpose of obtaining labour; and they had a strong interest, both directly and indirectly, in reducing the wages of labour. They were also the owners of cottages which were let to the labourers. They had, therefore, the field wardens in the double capacity of the employers of labour, and of the owners of cottages. It would be the natural object of the field wardens to obtain labour at the lowest possible rate, and to obtain the highest rent for their cottages. They would say, "Here you have half an acre of good land;" (the rent would no doubt be at the ordinary rate for good land;) "you pay 20s. for half an acre of good land, that rent is low, and you can afford to work for us at 1s. or 2s. a week less than persons can work for in a neighbouring parish where there are no allotments." And very likely they would say also, "In consideration of your allotments, you must pay 40s. a year more as rent for your cottage." He agreed with the hon. Member for Hertford, that the point to which they ought to look was the well being of the labouring classes. He knew that the hon. Member had no other object; but he thought he would not have done his duty if he had not presented these considerations, and if he did not say that the remarks of the hon. Member for Bath were well worthy of notice. He was willing, however, to go into Committee on this Bill without prejudice to his objections; but entertaining, as he did, his fears as to the principle of the measure, he had felt it proper to draw the hon. Member's attention to these points.

Mr. Roebuck

did not mean, in anything he had said, to impugn the motives of the hon. Gentleman in bringing in this Bill. He believed him to be guided by good motives; and, if the expression of his approbation on that ground was of any worth, he trusted the hon. Member would accept it. After what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman, he would not press his Amendment to a division.

House went into Committee pro formâ; several Amendments were introduced, and the Bill was reported with amendments.