HC Deb 16 April 1850 vol 110 cc420-6

MR. SLANEY moved for the appointment of a Committee, to suggest means for giving facilities to safe investments for the savings of the middle and working classes; and for affording them the means of forming societies to insure themselves against coming evils frequently recurring. Questions of this nature had not the same interest for the House as those in which party was concerned; he must therefore throw himself on the indulgence of the House for a brief period. There was nothing in the question to excite angry feelings, or to injure the credit of the country; on the contrary, the proposition, if fairly carried out, would support the credit of the country, and he beneficial to a large mass of the people. No one who had looked into the subject could doubt the importance of giving facilities for the investments of the middle and working classes. Its importance was threefold: first, it promoted contentment, excited industry, and stimulated enterprise; secondly, it would be the means of creating an increased fund of capital in the country destined to give employment to labour—a most important consideration at a time when so much difficulty was found in providing employment for all who desired it; and, in the third place, it would tend to decrease the burden of taxation, if not its amount, by increasing the wealth of the country. To increase that wealth, it was necessary that facilities should be given in order to stimulate the industry of the middle and working classes, which, from various causes, had not yet been done. It was calculated that the yearly increase of the capital of the country was equal to sixty millions, and he firmly believed that if suggestions were carried out, which should stimulate the investments and industry of the middle and working classes, that immense fund which was destined for the improvement of the country, for the employment of labour, and for the benefit of the community, would at least be doubled. He now merely asked for a Committee to consider the question, with a view to practical suggestions, such as might be beneficial to the working classes. He did not ask for any advantages for the working classes which were not enjoyed by other classes. He asked for the removal of those impediments and obstacles which stood in the way of an investment for their savings. If a poor man wished to invest 50l. in the purchase of land, or in a mortgage on land, the cost of stamps, investigation of title, and complexity of conveyance, cost him 20 per cent. A person belonging to the middle class having to lay out 500l. in the same way would have to pay 10 per cent, whilst a rich man wishing to lay out 5,000l the cost was only 2½ per cent. He was desirous of removing this impediment and injustice, and of enabling the working man to invest his small capital in a safe and profitable manner. If a poor man invested in the funds he might have bought in when they were high, and his necessities might compel him to sell out when they were low. Besides, he would have to obtain a power of attorney to enable him to receive his dividend; and this would cost him as much for 10l. as if he had to draw 10,000l. a year. Then a poor man could not invest his capital in local enterprises, however beneficial or profitable, because the law of partnership was there to prevent him. That law made his whole property liable in case the enterprise turned out to be unsuccessful. But if his liability was limited, he had no doubt that many local works of great benefit would be undertaken which would return an ample profit. As an instance how the present law of partnership worked, he might mention that when it was proposed to establish a great lodging house for the humbler classes, with which he believed the noble Lord at the head of the Government, and certainly the Earl of Carlisle and others of high rank, were connected, and which was to return a profit to the proprietors, they refused to have anything to do with the concern unless their responsibility was limited; and it was only when a charter of incorporation had to be obtained that they joined and supported it. At the same time he should take care that there should be no fraud—that there should be responsibility to a certain amount of the capital paid up. Under the present system it was requisite to obtain an Act of Parliament to build a pier or to carry out any petty improvement, the cost of obtaining which was 500l. Now he would have a general Act applicable to such objects, as was the case with regard to the lighting and paving of towns, enabling the parties, upon proving their case, and complying with certain forms, to get an Act at a cost of from 20l. to 30l. That would be a great benefit to the humbler classes; it would stimulate industry and greatly increase the fund destined for the employment of labour. It had been proved before the Committee which sat in 1830 that the working classes suffered greatly from fluctuations in trade and changes in fashion, change of seasons, and other causes of a like nature. It was also proved that their earnings throughout the year would be ample enough to support them in comfort if they were properly distributed. This could only be done by investing their savings when they had full employment against the time when they would be thrown out of work. For this purpose the Friendly Societies Act had been passed; but a construction had been given to some words of that statute which deprived it of the beneficial effect which it was intended it should have. He did not ask the Government or the rich to give anything to the poor; he merely asked for some means by which the poorer classes could provide for their own wants in periods of depression by their own savings. It often happened in the case of fishermen, that they sustained great distress from the loss of their boats and nets. But, as the law now stood, they could not form an association for the purpose of replacing such losses. It would be a matter of great moment to such persons if they were allowed to form associations for such purposes. It was of the utmost consequence to the well-being of society and to the safety of the country that every facility should be given to the humbler classes to invest the earnings they obtained by their labour and industry; and with that view he begged leave to move for a Committee to consider the best means for accomplishing that object.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That a Select Committee be appointed, to consider and suggest means of removing obstacles and giving facilities to safe Investments for the Savings of the middle and working classes.


seconded the Motion.


said, he had great pleasure in stating, that he did not feel it necessary to oppose the Motion. No one could doubt that it was of the utmost importance, and he thought it probable that the Committee now asked for might be able to obtain important evidence on the various subjects to which his hon. Friend referred. But, at the same time, it must he admitted that they were difficult as well as important topics. It would, no doubt, be of great consequence to the working classes, if they could obtain land in an easy and advantageous manner; and he hoped that by law reforms, as well as by fiscal reforms, that House would promote so desirable an object. He knew, both from observation and experience, that the cost of the investments was a very great bar to persons of small means who desired to invest their money in land. With regard to the law of partnership which existed in this country, the question was one which involved considerable difficulty. He believed the opinions of Lord Ashburton, Lord Over-stone, Mr. Palmer, and Mr. Norman, who were examined before the Committee of 1837 on this subject, were equally divided for and against the view advocated by his hon. Friend. He confessed, for himself, that he did not see how the present law of partnership could be altered, so as to allow persons to invest a limited capital on the principle of limited liability, without increasing the spirit of gambling amongst all classes of the community, which must lead to disastrous consequences both to the capitalist who might be induced to embark his money in a speculation over which he had but little control, and to the creditor who might be induced to deal with parties who had but a limited capital and a limited responsibility. With respect to the first portion of his hon. Friend's Motion, he had no fault to find, but he did not exactly understand that portion of it which the hon. Gentleman said was for affording the middle and working classes the means of forming societies to insure themselves against coming evils frequently recurring. He confessed he was quite at a loss to understand that part of the Motion. In Committee he would be glad to afford all the information in his power.


said, there was a point as regarded investments, which he trusted would not be lost sight of by the Government. It was considered advisable to bring in a Bill the other day, to give greater security to savings banks; and nothing was more essentially required. At present many persons considered that savings banks were wholly under the protection of and secured by Government, which was not the case; and therefore, the sooner Government gave that safe and simple security to the depositor, the better for the people of this as also of the sister country. Nothing could be more discouraging to the first and very useful attempts to economise, than these disastrous failings of savings banks, one of which occurred in Cumberland not very long since. Therefore he trusted the Government would keep that point steadily in view; because it was most important when an institution which seemed to be guarded by every thing that an Administration could hold out, turned out to be grounded on nothing more than a foundation of narrow private credit. Trusting that his hon. Friend would not forget that, as also the building societies, in the formation of his Committee, he would not further detain the House.


accepted the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, to agree to the Motion on leaving out the last clause. If there was any obscurity in it, he could quote a high authority in its favour. "Coming events cast their shadows before them."

Motion agreed to.