HC Deb 11 June 1852 vol 122 cc510-20

Order for Committee of Supply read; Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


said, he should move as an Amendment on the Question, the Resolution of which he had given notice. He had attended to the subject of the condition of the working classes very anxiously ever since he had been in Parliament. The question had nothing whatever to do with party; but it interested deeply the welfare of the community, and that was the reason it had engaged his attention so constantly. He would refer to Reports laid before that House from time to time to prove his case. A great difference had occurred during the last forty years in our social system; the comforts of all classes and the wealth of all classes had materially augmented, not, however, in equal proportion. But it was the working men—the labouring classes—by whose agency all these blessings and all this wealth had been mainly produced; and the question was, had the condition of the labouring classes improved in proportion to the benefits conferred by them upon other classes? He believed the reverse was the fact— that, instead of improving, their condition had retrograded; and it could be traced to the indifference or neglect of those whose duty it was to look after their interests. The working classes were divided into two great bodies—the agricultural and the manufacturing classes. The agricultural labourers had deteriorated in consequence of want of due attention to their condition. If there had been a department to take this important matter into consideration, the evils he now deplored would not have existed. Committees had been from time to time appointed to inquire, among other things, into the mode of payment of wages, and strong condemnation had been passed on the abuse of paying wages out of the poor-rates. He had drawn attention subsequently to the fact of the practice still continuing, and that no sufficient remedy had been provided by the Legislature. In 1834 a Commission was appointed to inquire into the subject, and they reported that the practice was subversive of the morals and independence of labourers, and destructive to the best interests of the working classes. Had there been a special department, such as he suggested, could these evils, proved to exist as they had been in twenty-six counties, have been permitted to continue unredressed for twenty-five years? The result of the system was to generate discontent and outrage on the part of the labouring classes, and this would continue if the evils were still permitted to exist. After thirty years, a correction was attempted to be applied to the mischief by the establishment of the new Poor Law. But had that law cured the evils? He contended that the evils which the new Poor Law was intended to correct, would exist for at least the next two generations. He considered that the only safe remedy was to have a department to look into these matters, and to make reports from time to time to the Government, with respect to the sanitary condition of the labouring classes. If the dwellings of the poor were inspected, in many counties they would be found disgraceful to us as a nation. He admitted that a good deal had been done and was doing to mitigate this evil, but he regretted to say much remained yet to be done. The report of the Sanitary Commission would bear out his assertion, and would prove the neglected condition of the agricultural labourers. But what was the case of the town districts? Was it better? He feared not. The rate of mortality was about two per cent for the country, but it was four and four and a half per cent, and in some instances five per cent, in town districts, where working men were congregated immasses. In 1840 a Committee sat on the question of the labouring classes in towns, and they reported that as far as the dwellings of the labouring poor were concerned, great evils were to be found, which, however, could be removed by adopting proper sanitary precautions and regulations. The Report of 1842 confirmed all the statement of the previous Committees relative to the young population in towns finding premature graves, and the adult population being diseased and ill-lodged. These facts showed that a very large body of the people in towns were neglected by Government. In 1845 there was an inquiry into fifty towns, and this was the general statement, that the prevalence of the evils was general. Since that period an Act had been passed to improve the health of those districts, but this did not take place until after forty years of neglect. The evils would not have existed at all had there been a Commission to look after the health and general condition of the working population. The Factory Commission in 1843 stated that in reference to juvenile labour, the young people employed by the factory workmen were subjected to great hardships and ill usage, little or nothing being done to afford factory children proper recreation or instruction. The result was that the children were sickly, stunted, and short-lived. Nothing had been done, and he asked the House whether such a state of things ought to be allowed to continue? The Report also spoke of the condition of the mining population. It was stated that the children of miners and in mines had not sufficient moral or religious training in the mining districts. He was referring to the condition of the defenceless children of a defenceless class. It was impossible to read the Report of the Commissioners without feeling pain at finding that nothing had been done to elevate and improve the material and moral condition of the working people. Having shown that the condition of our agricultural and town-working population was full of evils, he asked the House to consent to the establishment of a Commission for the common benefit of the working classes. The handloom weavers to the number of 600,000 were in a state of the greatest distress, and to these were to be added the railway labourers, whose numbers also amounted to 600,000. And what was the cause of the depression of these classes of our fellow-men? It was owing to the great changes in the social and commercial condition of the world, without any corresponding change being made as regarded the labouring population of the country. The vast increase of the population of the towns called for a corresponding alteration of the laws. While in the rural districts the increase of population from the year 1801 to 1851 had only been at the rate of 5 per cent, the increase in the towns had been at the rate of 100 per cent. All these facts proved the necessity of a Governmental department to take cognisance of the condition of the people. Hitherto these things had been left to individual Members of Parliament. The first thing necessary to be done was to provide for the education of the people. It might be said that the Government had already looked to that subject; but, with what effect? Before the Education Committee of 1838 it was shown that provision for the education of the people was required for one-eighth, and yet, on the average, provision was only made for the education of one-eighteenth, or of one-twentieth, of the population. Since that period, two Governments had endeavoured to bring in measures for extending education; but both schemes exhibited a lamentable deficiency. The effect of all this neglect of the people had been discontent among many, and suffering and disease. Illness was in proportion to deprivation; and it was shown that, on the one hand, where prosperity existed, death was 2 per cent, while, where poverty prevailed, it was 5 per cent. The average of the life of the three classes into which society was divided was this:—The average of life of the first class was 37 years; of the middle class, 27 years; and of the humble classes, 20 years. This disparity arose in a great degree from the neglect shown by the higher classes to the condition of the lower. As a matter of economy, this subject ought to engage the attention of Parliament. The poor-rates were considerably increased by the non-employment of the people, while crime advanced in a very rapid progression. The number of criminal commitments in England and Wales was in the first year of the present century 4,700; in 1815, 7,800; in 1821, 16,500; in 1831, 19,600; in 1841, 27,000; in 1847, 28,000; and in 1848, 50,000. It was true that since 1848 the number had, owing to various causes, diminished; but from 1800 to 1848 the number of criminals increased three times as fast as the population. What had been the increase in the consumption of spirits? In 1817, the consumption was 9,200,000 gallons; in 1827, 18,200,000; in 1845, 27,000,000; in 1852, 28,000,000; show-that the consumption of spirits also increased three times as fast as the population—another evidence of the unsatisfactory condition of the people. It was in vain that they erected gaols and penitentiaries in order to reclaim men. It was beginning at the wrong end. They should educate the young, and teach the working man to improve his own condition. But to all this there were impediments arising from laws and customs which a consultative board would entirely remedy. He was aware that some looked at this question as a matter of cost only. Well, as a matter of cost, what was it that crime alone cost the country? Not less than 11,000,000l. sterling per annum. The poor-rates were 5,400,000l. for England and Wales; hospitals, dispensaries, and alms, the necessity of which arose in great measure from neglect of the poor, amounted to the same sum of 5,400,000l. The direct cost of the police, gaols, &c, amounted to 1,500,000l. But to this was to be added the loss which society sustained from the illness of men whose labour was of necessity abstracted from society, and which by proper regulations might be prevented. That he estimated at 2,000,000l.; so that the whole amount of deduction to be made from the productive powers of labour, including some other items that he would not take up the time of the House by enumerating, was not less than 27,500,000l. a year. But this was only for England and Wales; if they added to it half as much more for Ireland and Scotland, which would be 13,750,000l., it would make a total of 41,250,000l., to which might be added 10,000,000l. for consumption of spirits by these neglected persons; thus making a grand total of 51,000,000l. expended annually on account of neglect, poverty, and crime in this country. He believed that one-half of this sum might be saved to the country by improving the condition of the people. What, then, was it that he proposed as a remedy for the evils he had thus pointed out? He did not wish to hold out false hopes; but hitherto Government had done nothing. There were three things which it was essential to accomplish: first, the instruction of the children; second, the protection of the health of both parents and children; and, thirdly, fair play and equal encouragement to their industry. They must change their views from the gaols and the penitentiaries, to the industrial schools. Instead of education being given to one in 18 of the population, it must be given to one in 8. All these points had been greatly neglected; and the effect had been shown in the increase of crime, and in the immense cost to the country to which he had just adverted. A Committee or Commission, free from the bias of party, might be nominated by the Government of the day, and would constitute a council which might be made a centre for the suggestions of benevolent men on whatever tended to the improvement of the working classes. The cost would not exceed 2.000l.; and if that paltry sum were grudged, half of it might be found to try the experiment. The causes of existing evils would be dealt with, instead of the effects being removed, as at present; those "coming events" which "cast their shadows before" might, by measures of anticipation, have their pressure mitigated.


in seconding the Motion, said, he had intended to trespass on the attention of the House for some time, but considering the time already occupied, and having reference to the able speech which they had just heard, he should content himself with a single observation. He had regretted to observe the impatience manifested during his hon. Friend's address, because he was aware that an idea prevailed in the country, not only amongst the working but even the highest classes, that that House was not disposed to entertain such grievances when they were brought before them, but rather to pass to more exciting and agreeable topics. He knew that there was some cause for impatience when they were all anxious that the business of the Session should be speedily terminated. He had not mentioned the subject with the view of casting reflection on that House, with which he had so long had the honour of being connected; but when he found a resolution, "That this meeting were very anxious to make provision for the education of ragged children, a class which rarely attracted the attention of statesmen or legislators," adopted by a meeting, not of Chartists, but of the middle classes, at which he attended, for the education of ragged children, he could not but say that he trusted, when the present Motion was brought forward, the endeavour would be made to put an end to the idea that this House did not take an interest in those persons to whom the Motion related. The House would regret to learn that this was the final and farewell address of his hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury; and it was the more desirable that the Government should take up this question, because the House had not the advantage they had once derived from the presence of his noble Friend, formerly a Member of that House, now Lord Shaftesbury, who had been so long and so usefully engaged in bringing forward important measures for the benefit of the working classes; and, now that they were about also to lose the services of his hon. Friend (Mr. Slaney), who had devoted so much time and attention to those subjects, he did not know who would now undertake to deal with them. He thought the hon. Member for Shrewsbury had fully made out his case, and hoped to hear from the lips of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department some sentiments which would give encouragement as to the future.

Amendment proposed— To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'it is expedient that a Department, Standing Committee, or Unpaid Commission, be appointed, to consider, suggest, and report from time to time, preventive and remedial measures, to benefit the social condition of the Working Classes, and for removing social and other obstacles to their improvement,' instead thereof.


said, everybody must admit that the sincere zeal and benevolence which the hon. Gentleman who brought forward the Motion had always manifested towards the working classes, deserved the warmest encouragement; and, if he (Mr. Walpole) thought the Motion would tend to advance the social condition of those classes, he certainly should have desired, on the part of the Government, to give it his assent. He regretted extremely the retirement of the hon. Gentleman from that House, and was certain the country would feel that the hon. Gentleman was ending as he began—that he was exerting his intellect and energy in behalf of those who had no opportunity of being heard for themselves. The present proposition of the hon. Gentleman, however, appeared to him to be not only useless, but detrimental to the interests of those for whom he proposed it. One of the objects of the hon. Gentleman was to obtain the appointment of an unpaid Commission— To consider, suggest, and report from time to time preventive and remedial measures, to benefit the social condition of the Working Classes, and for removing social and other obstacles to their improvement. A second object was to obtain information on which legislative remedies might be carried out. Another object was, that such remedies should be effected through the medium of such a Commission. With respect to the proposed Commission, he (Mr. Walpole) doubted whether more information would be obtained by that means than by means of a Select Committee, such as might now be appointed in either House of Parliament to inquire into particular subjects relating to the working classes; and the constitution of the Commission itself would not be such as would render it likely to afford any valuable or complete information. The Commission or Standing Committee would consist of two or three persons, who would take up particular views and opinions, and who, generally speaking, would follow up those views or opinions with great pertinacity, without considering others which might be pressed on their attention. When a Committee was appointed by either House of Parliament, it was composed of Members entertaining different views, who pressed those views on the attention of the Committee; and therefore a better report was obtained than would be obtained from a Standing Committee or Commission. The whole tenour of the hon. Gentleman's statement showed how information was obtained through Committees of both Houses of Parliament. On that account he (Mr. Walpole) did not think the proposal, if carried into effect, would be attended with the advantages which had been anticipated. Then, with respect to the remedial measures to be introduced, he regretted to hear one observation of his noble Friend the Member for Middlesex (Lord R. Grosvenor). His noble Friend said there was a prevalent opinion that that House was not disposed to attend to the grievances of the working classes. The sooner that opinion was set right in the country the better. If there was one thing which, since he had had the honour of a seat in that House, had struck him more than another, it was that the improvement of the condition of the working classes, the means of their education, and similar subjects, had been more uniformly and zealously urged than questions affecting even those who were actually represented within those walls. He did not believe a specific measure for the benefit of the working classes could be proposed which would not procure more support than measures for the benefit of those who wore peculiarly represented there; and he hoped the noble Lord would take the opportunity, when it offered, of explaining that the classes of whom he had spoken laboured under a misapprehension, when they supposed that their interests were not attended to. A Bill had been brought in on the subject of Industrial and Provident Partnerships, which had been passed through that House entirely through the energy and ability of the hon. Gentleman who had proposed the Motion. Then there were measures of education: others relating to factories; others, again, which had given rise more to party discussions; he might take for example the repeal of the Corn Laws, which, doing away with a great part of the revenue, was done with a view to the relief of the working classes. Measures of that description showed that they had their interests properly submitted to the consideration of Parliament. A Standing Committee of the kind proposed would in some respects be detrimental. The idea ought not to be encouraged among the working classes that they must look to the Government or to Parliament, instead of relying on their own exertions and industry. There was a great chance that the appointment of a Standing Committee or Commission proposed would give rise to such an idea, and diminish the sense of the necessity for self-reliance. Believing that, for the purposes of legislation, there existed, by means of Committees of both Houses of Parliament, a much greater probability of obtaining attention for the objects the hon. Gentleman himself had in view, than by means of an unpaid Commission or Standing Committee, and seeing the appointment of such a Commission or Committee might lead to the consequences to which he had briefly adverted, he (Mr. Walpole) regretted to say that he was under the reluctant necessity of giving a negative to the Motion. which he hoped the hon. Gentleman would not press to a division.


said, he was sorry to hear that the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to negative this Motion; because, though a Standing Committee might do no good, it certainly would do no harm. He was quite aware that the House was anxious to go into Supply; but this Motion was the best kind of supply, for it would supply contentment and progress, and assist in promoting union between the rich and the poor. He was quite sure that a Standing Committee would prove most useful; it would digest the information it received much better, and in a more practical manner, than that taken by Committees of that House. With regard to the self-reliance which the poor ought to be taught, the poor had as great a claim upon that House, as the rich; and, as they suffered under grievous injuries inflicted by legislation, they had a right to ask the House to remove, or at least to alleviate, them. He hoped the Government would withdraw their opposition, and allow the proposal of his hon. Friend to be carried.


said, that, agreeing in much that had fallen from the right hon. Secretary for the Home Department, he dissented from the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman with respect to a Committee or Commission of the kind proposed. It would form the nucleus of a system for obtaining and digesting information, and, being a permanent body to which the poor might complain, hon. Members could on special occasions move the appointment of a Select Committee. The two methods of proceeding might co-exist.


said, he should most deeply regret the absence of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury from amongst them, although they sat at different sides of the House, and were politically opposed to each other. When the commercial policy of 1846 was adopted, there was nothing more strenuously insisted upon than that it would materially tend to the elevation of the condition of the working classes. However, this result, so ardently anticipated, had not followed. The House was now informed that crime had increased threefold to what it was in former years; and also that sickness and poverty had increased. Those facts certainly showed that the working classes were not at present placed in a perfectly satisfactory condition. He felt, however, that at the present period of the Session, they could not properly consider the Motion of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury; and he could not, therefore, support that Motion.


said, that there were already two Commissions in existence devoted to the consideration of the physical and mental condition of the working classes. There was the Education Commission and the Sanitary Commission, and there was a third Commission, namely, the Emigration Commission, which was appointed to give information and assistance to those who were anxious to cast their fortunes in another land. It would be much better to give those Commissions more extensive powers, than to appoint another. The statement respecting the increase of crime ought to be received with some abatement. The greater number of commitments arose from the increased vigilance of the police; but there was no proof that the more serious crimes had increased in proportion to the population.


trusted the hon. Member for Shrewsbury would not press his Amendment. He (Mr. G. A. Hamilton) wished to remark, however, that the question to be put would be, that the House shall go into Committee of Supply, and not a negative to the Motion of the hon. Member.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

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