HC Deb 23 March 1858 vol 149 cc625-48

MR. AYRTON, in moving for leave to bring in a Bill to remedy the existing inequality in metropolitan poor rates, said, that last Session he moved for a Committee to inquire into the causes of that inequality, and to devise the remedy. On that occasion he went at considerable length into the details and extent of the existing equality, and illustrated those details by an appeal to figures, which showed that inequality in a remarkable manner, and that the highest rating was in a manifold degree above the lowest in the metropolitan parishes. He did not propose to repeat the statements he then made, but he would simply remind the House of the grounds on which the Bill he sought to introduce was founded. He did not propose to adopt any principle of general application to the rest of England, but he proceeded upon grounds solely applicable to the metropolis. He had nothing to do with the questions of exceeding difficulty and much complication respecting agricultural unions, and unions which embraced both towns and villages. All such questions he put aside, and confined himself to the evils which existed in the metropolis, the cause of those evils, and the necessity for adopting some remedy. He believed that the circumstances connected with parochial rating in the metropolis was entirely different from those which were found in other parts of the country. Such was the character of the labouring classes in London that he was told that scarcely any of the inhabitants could trace three generations back as having been descended from persons born in the metropolis. It appeared that in the third generation the descendants of this class of persons born in London were killed off or vanished in some way, and that the supply of labouring industry was kept up by repeated importations from the country. There was therefore no resemblance to the labour which might be found in the villages in the country, where persons traced back their descent to very distant periods. People did not come here to visit a particular parish. They came to the metropolis as to a great mart of industry, where they would find that employment which they had failed to obtain elsewhere; and upon that single ground he (Mr. Ayrton) was prepared to contend that whatever pecuniary liabilities were thus entailed ought to be borne by the metropolis at large, and not by that parish to which by accidental circumstances they were compelled for the moment to go. What, then, were these circumstances? Here, again, they would find a distinction which at once separated the metropolis from all other parts of the country. London contained a large population in a small area, which was covered with houses, and this circumstance enabled society to throw itself into classes, and into particular localities. Thus one parish was devoted to banks and banking-houses, another to docks, a third was the residence of wealthy merchants, while the fourth was the receptacle of the misery and destitution of the metropolis. In villages all classes resided in one parish; the squires, the shopkeepers, and the industrial classes were all brought into contact in the same village, but in London the poor became chargeable to one parish, while the rich were exempt because they were congregated in another. The division between one parish and another was purely artificial, and was unknown to the residents unless they were connected with parochial affairs, or unless for some special purpose they wished to ascertain the boundary. The other night the House had before it an instance of a park which was constructed in one parish, and those who wished to enjoy it lived in others, and wished to be exempted from paying toll on a bridge which led to it. The relations between parish and parish in London were different to those between parish and parish in the country, and thus the chargeability of the poor was unequal and capricious. Certain classes, being thrown by residence upon certain parishes, became irremovable, although the whole of their industry had been exercised in another parish for persons who contributed nothing to their maintenance when infirm. Thus the families of the powdered lacqueys who found employment in Belgravia, not being allowed to live with their husbands, found a residence in the poorer parishes. The husband had exercised his industry in a wealthy parish, yet the destitution became chargeable where the wife resided and where the children were born, so that the master escaped. He understood that no opposition was to be offered to the introduction of the Bill, so that he need not take up the time of the House at any length in demonstrating the injustice of such a state of things. Another inequality was caused by the casual poor, consisting of that class who came to the metropolis and wandered about in search of employment. These persons became chargeable to the poorer parishes, leaving the richer parishes entirely exempt from their share of the burden. It was said the existing state of things should not be disturbed, because it would alter the charges on property; but this was an argument that had been used in opposition to every improvement of the law that had any relation to fiscal obligations and to the removal of every impost that had been levied on produce in this country, and Parliament never regarded it as a valid objection when it became satisfied that a particular tax was unjust, or ought to be made to press more equally on all classes of the community. There could be no doubt of the inequality with which the poor rates pressed on different parts of the metropolis, for while one parish was struggling to keep down the charge, the officials in another were exercising their ingenuity to find objects on whom to expend relief; and a gentleman had stated in public that the officers of one parish were in the habit of adjourning at their annual meetings to a tavern to join in festivities, having, in reality, nothing to do. Such a state of things demanded consideration and an equalization of the rate upon parishes. There had been various attempts made to grapple with this evil. Many cities and towns in England had been placed in the same circumstances as the metropolis, and in several of these the evil had been remedied by Acts of Parliament brought in from time to time. Indeed, he believed that at this moment there was an Act of the kind passing through Parliament applicable to the Isle of Wight. The position of some of the towns similarly situated with the metropolis engaged the attention of the Government some years ago, and there was laid down by the Poor Law Board a principle which he desired to see carried out in relation to the metropolis. The Poor Law Board, in 1848, issued a circular describing the circumstances in which many towns were placed, and referring to the introduction of a Bill which should apply a remedy by enacting that henceforth all the parishes in such towns should, for the purpose of maintaining the poor, be considered one parish. In accordance with the principles laid down in that circular a Bill was introduced in which several towns were scheduled. The first of these was Cambridge, in which there was much complexity in relation to the circumstances that led to changeability and the area of taxation. The Bill, however, from circumstances to which he need not refer, was not proceeded with. The people of Cambridge referred their difficulties to the consideration and judgment of a very eminent person (Mr. Justice Patterson), who examined into the circumstances of the i town and University, and the conclusion he arrived at was that there was no solution of the difficulty except to make the town and the University one, and for the purposes of rating for the poor. Accordingly two years ago an Act was passed to carry this into effect, and it was there provided that the management of the affairs of the poor rates in respect to the town and the University should be under one body, and that there should be one common rate. Since that time he found from the report of the Poor Law Board that this mode of dealing with the ques- tion had made such progress that other places had adopted a similar course. To come back, however, to the Metropolis, he believed that it would be as easy and simple to deal with the evil there as in the other towns and cities to which he had referred. There would be no difficulty in introducing a measure to divide the metropolis into sections, to appoint officers in those sections for the administration of; poor relief, to make representatives from each of those sections meet together as an aggregate body for the supervision of the whole, and thus bring the entire metropolitan area under one system of management, and under one rate; following, in short, the admirable scheme laid down in the Bill carried through by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Marylebone (Sir B. Hall) for establishing the Metropolitan Board of Works. Such a system would not be free from difficulties in practice, and it was a task too great for him to undertake. He did not, therefore, propose to adopt that course; but he would venture to suggest a plan which, while it would accomplish the justice he desired, would be free from the objections raised to all measures of this kind, that they destroyed local management, and substituted for it some extensive central organization. He was glad to think that instead of being called on to propose any invention of his own, or to offer any new device, he could discover a method of remedying the evil in the original Statute of Elizabeth, by which the Poor Law was first established in this country. The Statute of Elizabeth provided that if there was any over assessment for the poor in one parish, the justices of the peace were to make a rate in any other parish they might think most able to contribute within the hundred, and if they found that within the hundred there was no such parish they might search for it within the county, and compel it to contribute its fair quota towards the necessities of the parish which they found to be sunk in poverty. That statute could not be applied as it now stood, because the metropolis stood in four counties, namely, the county of the City of London, Middlesex, Surrey, and Kent. It was therefore impossible for any one set of justices to deal with this subject, but it was not difficult to select from the bench of each of these counties justices who could form a board capable to deal with all questions that might arise as to giving contributions from rich to poor parishes. He would therefore provide that each of the benches of justices in quarter sessions for these four counties should, from their number, elect two or three of their body, and that those gentlemen so elected should constitute a special sessions for rating for the poor of the metropolis. Thus they would at once have a board composed of gentlemen of undoubted character and position, selected by those who would find among their own number persons well qualified to perform the functions they had to discharge, while a body so constituted would he free from the objections so often raised against boards appointed by Government. To discharge its duties this board would require only the agency of a clerk, and therefore the expense would be but slight. The first thing it would have to do would be to ascertain clearly the base of rating throughout the metropolis, because at present there was the greatest diversity as to the rate at which property in different parishes was assessed; as appeared from the return which was laid before the House. The assessment of St. George's Hanover Square, under the property tax was £1,097,000, whilst the rating under the poor law was £694,000, being a difference of £400,000 between the two assessments. In Marylebone the difference was £300,000. But some of the poorer parishes were assessed under the poor law within £8,000 of the property tax assessment. In one parish in Bethnal Green the property tax rating was £128,000, whilst the poor-law rating was £130,000, and it is much the same in the parish of St. Mary Magdalene, Bermondsey. The first step, therefore, which was necessary so as to administer justice between contending interests, was to lay down a uniform basis of assessment. In performing this duty the justices would be undertaking no novel functions. There was already in existence an admirable statute by which the justices arrived at a uniform standard for the county rate. Following in the steps of previous legislation, he, therefore, proposed to confer on these justices, with respect to the metropolis, the power which the committee of justices at present possessed with respect to county rating. The next function of the justices would be to determine what was to be paid by any parish towards the necessities of another. To enable them to do this every parish would be required at the end of the parochial year to make to the Clerk of the Justices a return of its expenditure and rating for the past year. Such returns were now made to the Poor Law Board, and it would therefore only be necessary to send a copy to the Justices clerk, who was to give notice of the result by a printed circular. The Bill then provided that the Justices should hold a special session for the purpose of determining the sum which was to be paid by the richer parish and received by the poorer one. According to this plan the Justices would proceed not upon estimate or speculation, but upon ascertained facts, and power would be given them to entertain and examine any objection which might be raised to the accounts of any parish on the ground of extravagance or any dereliction of parochial duty. He believed that the magistracy were fully competent to discharge those functions, and though he saw some gentlemen smile at that statement, he should rather trust the good sense of the unpaid magistrates than the casuistry of a bench of stipendiary lawyers. The question remained, what was to be the nature and extent of the contribution to be paid by one parish to another. He had devoted much time to the examination of this subject, and the more he investigated it the more he was satisfied that the best thing for the public interest would be to deal with the question boldly and finally by saying that the Justices should establish one uniform rate for all the parishes. Each parish would still have an interest in keeping down its own rates, and as each would carry on its operations under the criticism and scrutiny of an independent board of Justices, he thought there was no fear that any one of them would attempt unduly to increase its rates or charges. He was quite aware that upon this point there was great difference of opinion. Some people thought that it was better to deal with evils like this only partially. One hon. Gentleman, whose opinion in regard to matters connected with the administration of the Poor Laws was entitled to great weight, thought that the amount contributed should be one-half of the sum by which the expenditure of that parish exceeded the average. This opinion he founded upon the very simple ground that no parish could be expected to be guilty of the absurdity of imposing an additional burden upon itself in order that it might fix a similar one upon its neighbours. Another hon. Gentleman who took a great interest in these matters, and who was then in his place, thought that it should be only in extreme cases, and where the poor rates exceeded a certain amount, that aid should be given to any parish, and that the aid so given should be the sum by which that amount was exceeded. To this plan there was the obvious objection that it held out a premium to extravagance after that maximum amount had been reached. Therefore it was obvious that any assistance given by one parish to another must take the form of a percentage, in order that each parish might retain that interest in keeping down its rates which at present existed. This, however, was a matter which would be more properly decided in Committee, and upon which, therefore, he did not now ask the House to pronounce an opinion. Having decided which parishes were to pay, and which to receive, the Justices would then provide that those which had to pay should raise the amount to be paid with their next poor-rate, and that those who had to receive should add the amount received to that of their rates for parochial purposes. Many advantages would result from proceeding with such a measure as that he proposed. The first was that it would be no longer necessary to remove the poor from one parish in the metropolis to another, and those removals were about three-fourths of the entire. They would also get rid of the want of division of the poor in workhouses. It was hard that those poor who had seen better days should be obliged to consort with the vilest characters. If the divisions of the metropolis wore removed they might select workhouses for the different classes. He would not further enter into the details, as he had explained to the House the general character of the Bill. It did not in any way interfere with local management, but left it intact. This was a further advantage, as, if the measure should turn out to be objectionable in its provisions it might be rescinded or allowed to expire without producing any injurious consequences. He recommended the measure further on the ground that it was the result of a calm and temperate discussion of the whole subject by the ratepayers, under the auspices chiefly of the clergy of the Established Church, representing the great bulk of the inhabitants of the metropolis, who had that evening presented a petition in favour of the Bill. It would be most unfortunate if those gentlemen, seeing that no attention was paid to their demands, were to retire from all further consideration of the subject, and if the aggrieved ratepayers were to call to their aid those poor people who were the victims of the present system, by denouncing to them the great and crying injustice perpetrated upon them by the wealthy and powerful. The question might be considered now in a calm and dispassionate manner, but it could not be so if the poorer classes of the metropolis were once induced to take it into their own hands. No agitation, no speech, could have so powerful an effect as if the body of one of (hose who died of starvation was held up before the people, and if they were told that such a fate was the result of injustice, it would then be very difficult to deal with the subject in the temperate manner in which he desired to have it considered, and with a view to which he begged to move for leave to introduce the Bill. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for leave to introduce a Bill to provide a remedy for the inequality in the Rates for the Relief of the Poor in the Metropolis.


seconded the Motion. The present system of rating for the poor in the metropolis was most oppressive and unequal. The rates in the different parishes ranged from 7d. to 5s. in the pound, and the districts in which the highest rates were levied were precisely those in which the assessment was based upon the real as distinguished from the nominal value of the property. The existing state of things arose in a great measure from the recent change in the law of settlement. Formerly, when servants obtained a right to parochial relief from remaining in situations for a certain period, the richer parishes paid the heaviest rates; but since the introduction of the New Poor Law Act, giving such persons a claim to relief after having resided in any parish for five years, the burden of maintaining them in their days of adversity had fallen almost exclusively upon the poorer districts. The result was that those who derived advantage from the labours of the poorer classes were exactly the persons who contributed least to the poor rates. At the time of the distress in Ireland there was an immense immigration of poor people into this country, and a great increase in the rating of certain parishes had taken place in consequence. Another evil of the existing system was the inequality of the assessment, the rateable value as assessed in different parishes being from 15 to 57 per cent. below the real value, and was nearest to it in those parishes in which the rates were highest. He would not further detain them. He understood that no metropolitan Member would oppose the Motion, and he trusted the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board would follow the same course and allow the Bill to be introduced.


said, he was glad to acknowledge that the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets had brought his Motion before the House with great discretion, moderation, and judgment, and he congratulated the hon. Gentleman upon having submitted his proposal in a different shape from that in which he asked the House to deal with it last year. Last Session the hon. Member moved for a Select Committee to inquire into the system of rating in the metropolis; but to that proposal, in addition to the many excellent arguments urged against it at the time by the then President of the Poor Law Board, there was this further objection to be taken —that it was calculated to excite expectations which possibly might not be realized. Therefore, if the hon. Gentleman had repeated his proposal of last year, he should Lave felt it to be his duty to oppose it on the part of the Government. The hon. Gentleman had, however, taken another course, and in very moderate language had laid before the House a state of things which, whether it could be fully borne out or not, nevertheless was considered by a largo number of respectable persons in the metropolis to constitute a grievance. The hon. Gentleman had also asked leave to introduce a Bill which he believed would remedy that state of things. Consequently, if the House assented to the proposition, it would in a week or ten days be in possession of the provisions of the Bill, as would likewise the numerous persons out of doors, who for good or for evil would be affected by the measure if carried into law. Under these circumstances he thought it would be ungracious to oppose the introduction of the measure, which had been brought forward with so much moderation and discretion; and, moreover, he should be sorry to shut the doors of the House against any complaint of a grievance, whether it could be fully borne out or not. However, he must guard himself against being supposed to give any opinion whatever either as to the principle or details of the measure. The hon. Member had not stated at much length the principle of the Bill, while the details, as described by him, seemed to involve so much complication that he should be sorry to be expected at the present time to offer a positive opinion as to their expediency or practicability. He certainly had great doubts on both those points; but a more suitable opportunity of judging of the measure would be afforded when it was laid before the House. Nevertheless there were some few remarks which he thought he might not inappropriately make at this stage. The hon. Gentleman considered it a recommendation of his plan that it was not necessary for him to introduce any new principle of legislation, since he found in the old Poor Law Statute, the 43rd of Elizabeth, ready to his hand, machinery applicable to what he considered the grievance of the metropolis. The hon. Gentleman thought that the power there given to magistrates to levy a rate in aid for any parish would with large additional facilities and a little adaptation to modern wants, serve his purpose. Now, that might be good machinery, but it was not old machinery as intended to be applied by the hon. Gentleman, for it was only intended to be brought into operation in cases of the inability of a parish to raise a sufficient sum for the poor. If it were otherwise, how happened it that for 250 years so very few instances could be found of a rate in aid being resorted to? He was told that there was only one authentic case of a rate in aid being really carried out. That occurred in reference to a small parish in the city of Worcester; and even there it was abandoned after a certain number of years, for it was found that exactly in proportion as the Justices assigned to that parish contributions from the neighbouring parishes the local officers contrived always to spend the money drawn from their neighbours. He believed that the real reason that this provision of the 43rd of Elizabeth had been so seldom brought into use was, not the difficulty of putting the machinery in motion, but the risk of mismanagement when persons who had to contribute to the general fund had not the control of it. He feared that that risk would be incurred from the hon. Gentleman's plan, unless he guarded against it with more caution than he appeared from his speech to have done; for, as he understood the hon. Gentleman's plan, the rate in aid in the metropolis was to be fixed by the Justices, and the ratepayers who were to contribute had nothing to do but to pay. He doubted whether the latter would agree to such a proposition. In reference to the question of the in- equality of rating, he observed that, according to returns prepared by the Poor Law Board, it seemed that in consequence of the difference in the basis of assessment, a 1s. rate in one parish did not represent the same amount in another. For instance, there was a difference between the gross rental and the rateable value, on the latter of which the assessment was made. He had returns of the assessments in all the metropolitan parishes, and in some instances the difference between the gross rental and the rateable value was 50 per cent; but in St. George's, Hanover Square, which had been characterized as a favoured parish, the difference was not 10 per cent. Consequently, as far as the assessment was concerned, 1s. in the pound in that parish would be equivalent to 1s. 6d. in the pound in another parish where the rateable value was put at a low figure. He therefore concurred with the hon. Gentleman in thinking that if Parliament should seriously entertain the proposition now enounced it would be absolutely necessary, as a first stop, to put all the parishes on the same footing as regards assessment. He would further ask whether the hon. Gentleman, and were those whom he represented, prepared to accept the consequences of such a measure? The result would be that all the local Acts under which some of the parishes were managed must be put an end to, and those parishes must be placed on the same footing as the rest of the metropolis. He doubted whether the parishes, attached as they were to their local Acts, would like such a result. Moreover, he was sure that the hon. Gentleman would be obliged to have recourse to a much more stringent power on the part of the central authority — the Poor Law Board — than he seemed to anticipate. Supposing the whole of the metropolis formed into one district, could any man suppose that the local guardians, having such an enormous purse to draw on, would not exhibit a laxity in the expenditure? He feared the inevitable result would be that the Poor Law Board would be requested to undertake the management of the poor throughout the metropolis. He could not assent to the proposition of the hon. Gentleman that there was any material difference between the position of parishes in the metropolis and of parishes in the country, and unless very good reason could be shown for such a proceeding he certainly would be very unwilling to apply to one part of the kingdom a law relating to the relief of the poor differing from that which was generally established. If the system proposed by the hon. Gentleman was adapted to the metropolis he thought it would be equally applicable to the country generally; and it was for the hon. Gentle- man to show upon what grounds he would oppose an attempt to extend the same principle to all large towns and to country districts. If that were done what security would there be against the adoption of a national rate? He admitted that the great inequality of rates throughout England might well excite dissatisfaction; he admitted that in theory the scheme of the hon. Gentleman was extremely plausible; it might be that his scheme would involve no innovation upon the existing law, and would merely amount to the resuscitation of an old statute; but he feared that the adoption of the hon. Gentleman's plan would prove to be the insertion of a wedge which, within a very few years, would be driven home, and that the result would be the annihilation of all local government and the substitution of the authority of a central Board in London for the administration of the Poor Laws throughout the kingdom. Although these apprehensions were strong in his mind, nevertheless, adhering to what he had said, he thought it would be only becoming of the House to allow the hon. Gentleman to introduce his Bill. He hoped, before the question again came before them, the several parishes in the metropolis would have an opportunity of considering all the details of the measure, and that they would not altogether confine themselves to merely an opinion upon the merits of the question, but that they would be prepared, through their representatives, to show how the provisions were likely to affect their respective localities, and to furnish the House with some substantial grounds for their wishes on the subject. As far, however, as he had considered the matter, he was sorry to say that the hon. and learned Gentleman could not hope for his support on the second reading. At the same time, the subject was of great importance, and, therefore, he thought it would be only proper to allow the hon. and learned Gentleman to lay his measure before Parliament and the country.


said he wished to congratulate his hon. and learned friend with having met with such a kind recep- tion from the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Poor Law Board, and also upon his having been apprised of all the arguments which the right hon. Gentleman could urge against the passing of the Bill. If those were the only arguments likely to be brought forward against the Bill he could have no fear whatever of the result, for in that case he was confident that this Bill must necessarily pass into a law. They had heard these objections put forward over and over again. The right hon. Gentleman said that if they transferred the power of managing those rates from the many small localities that at present directed them and placed in the hands of a central body there must necessarily be great extravagance indeed. When, however, he (Mr. Locke) had the authority of the late Mr. Charles Buller and other eminent men to guide him—when he recollected the nature of the Report made by the Committee on the subject, he bad no fear of any such argument being successful against the proposed measure. The right hon. Gentleman, the late President of the Poor Law Board, had contended on a former occasion that if they passed such a Bill as that brought forward by his hon. Friend it would lead to an equalisation of the poor rates throughout the whole country. What was the consequence of that observation? Why, a feeling of horror immediately appeared to pass through the minds of all the country gentlemen. [Sir J. SHELLEY: Hear, hear!] He did not know whether his hon. Friend cheered in his character of representative for Westminster, or as a country gentleman of Sussex. [Sir J. SHELLEY: Both.] The hon. Baronet objected to the Bill, then, as Member for the city of Westminster, and as a landed proprietor in Sussex; but he thought he could remove the hon. Gentleman's objections by showing him that there was a clear distinction between the case of the metropolis and that of the country districts. The position of the metropolitan parishes differed most widely from that of parishes in the country districts, excluding, of course, large towns such as Liverpool, Manchester, or Birmingham. During many years past great improvements had been effected in various portions of the metropolis, and as an instance he might mention that, in order to construct Regent Street, the dwellings of some thousands of persons of the poorer class were demolished. The consequence was that the persons thus driven from the richer parishes located themselves in the poorer parishes to the east and south of London. The President of the Poor Law Board had said that if an equalisation of poor rates were adopted there must also be an equalisation of the rating. That was exactly what he (Mr. Locke) and many others desired; and petitions had been presented, signed by thousands of ratepayers, asking for an equality of rating as well as an equalisation of the rates. He might also refer to the wealthy parish in which the Bank of England stood. That enormous establishment was only rated at between £200 and £300. Surely that was a sufficient reason for demanding an equalisation of rating. The greatest social evil to be found in the metropolis was the fact that hundreds of thousands of the poor were huddled together in the poorer neighbourhoods, and obliged to live in dwellings wholly unfit for their reception. He submitted that this Bill would be a remedy against crowded dwellings in this metropolis. If we had an equal rating it would no longer be the interest of any particular parish to prevent suitable houses being built for the poor to dwell in, in their particular localities. Under existing circumstances, the richer parishes would not allow dwellings for the poorer classes to be built. When the houses of the poor were taken down in order to the formation of Vittoria Street, in Westminster, the Dean and Chapter of Westminster congratulated themselves upon getting rid of 2000 or 3000 of their inhabitants. This largo number of the poor were obliged to betake themselves to crowded dwellings, generally upon the south side of the metropolis. He maintained that there were hot in this metropolis a sufficient number of small houses for the poor to reside in. It was true that there was a Bill brought into the House last Session, with the professed object of improving the dwellings of the poor. That Bill was, however, an insult to the poor of this metropolis, because the only remedy it proposed to meet the evil complained of was to send in the police, who were to be authorised to turn out some of the inmates, if they found there were too many residing together. Such was the effect of high rating in the poor parishes that, notwithstanding the want of houses for the poor, the landlords of many houses were obliged to shut them up because they could not pay the rates. Take the City of London as it was properly called. He believed by the last census it contained 128,000 inhabitants. Those persons were generally the richest in the whole metropolis, but they only kept their offices in the City, and resided in other districts. In some of the parishes there were no paupers at all; it was true there was a union rate, but the principal parishes paid next to nothing. But they clearly ought to pay towards the relief of those who were in their employ, though they lived on the other side of the water. Two of the principal parishes on the south side — Bermondsoy and St. George-the-Martyr—could get no relief from the union, being unions in themselves. In those parishes resided most of the poor persons employed in the docks and other commercial establishments in the City. The great merchant of the City, who owned a dozen Indiamen, and perhaps employed 1,000 men in loading and unloading them, merely paid a nominal poor-rate upon the rating of a small office in some alley out of Cornhill, whilst their splendid residences at the West End were comparatively free from any charge for the support of the poor, inasmuch as there were scarcely any paupers in their neighbourhood. He submitted that the whole community should contribute equally to the support of the poor. There was every reason why the Bill should be discussed. Legislation had caused the evils, and therefore legislation ought to remedy them. Thousands of the inhabitants of the metropolis had been reduced by the preseut state of the law to a state of penury, and it was incumbent on the Legislature ts consider the question.


said, be believed this to be one of the most important subjects which bad of late been brought before the notice of Parliament, but it was also one which ought not to he treated as it had been by his hon. and learned Friend, who had imported into it a variety of considerations which might indeed tend to rouse public feeling out of doors, but which really had nothing whatever to do with the question. He congratulated the right hon. Gentleman who now presided over the Poor Law Board (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) upon the great facility with which he allowed himself to be influenced by official exigency. The right hon. Gentleman said that the hon. and learned Member last year proposed a Committee, but that he should have opposed a Committee, had it now been moved for, because it would have excited expectation. Now, would not the introduction of a Bill excite expectation? And ought not the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, on his own showing, to throw out this Bill at once? He (Mr. Roebuck) would not follow his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Ayrton) by drawing a contrast between the poor and the rich, which was quite beside the present question. Instead of this he would simply inquire what the Bill would do. Now, in his opinion, it sinned against two very important principles, the consideration of which ought to guide the House upon this subject. First, it sinned against the wholesome rule that each locality should watch over and control the expenditure of money raised for the relief of its poor; and then it sinned against the plainest principle of justice, because it declared that a sum of money invested in two different localities ought not under the same circumstances to produce exactly the same return. His hon. and learned Friend said that a house in the Tower Hamlets paid a great deal more in the shape of poor rates than a house in St. George's, Hanover Square, and that this was because the poor had been driven out of the latter parish. That had nothing whatever to do with the question. Suppose a man had a thousand pounds which he wished to invest in the best possible manner in house property in London. It might be assumed that this sum, whether invested in the Tower Hamlets or at St. George's, Hanover Square, would yield about the same interest. In the Tower Hamlets a man was told "there is so much to pay in the shape of rates." Well, that diminished the actual price of the property, and a house which would cost £1,000 in St. George's would he sold for £700 in the other parish. If this were so there really existed no difference between the real ratings in the two parishes; and should Parliament do what this Act proposed to do, and spread over the whole area of the metropolis the same rating, they would place the man who had paid but £700 for his house on the same level with the man who had paid £1,000, and would thus be taking money out of the pocket of the latter to give it to the former. Would that be just? The hon. and learned Gentleman appealed to the poor, but what bad the poor to do with it? The poor were the recipients of the rates; it was the proprietor of the houses who paid them; and he contended that the proprietor paid according to the sum which the house cost him, and according to that alone. The same argument held good throughout the United Kingdom. There was this further consideration. If the payment of the poor rales were placed on the Consolidated Fund, no man would have an interest in keeping down the expenditure. Everybody would be putting his hand into the public purse, and would seek to take out the largest possible amount. That was the tendency of the Bill, and it was the duty of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. S. Estcourt), who was placed in the position he occupied to watch over the public interest, to meet such a Bill steadily in the face. He (Mr. Roebuck) did not care one farthing about popularity. Uninfluenced by considerations of this kind, he would endeavour to fulfil the general duty which devolved upon him as a Member of this House. But the right hon. Gentleman had a peculiar duty to perform. He was bound to watch over the public interest in his official capacity, and it behoved him at once to meet such a proposition as this, opposed as it was to every principle of justice. As to the subjects which had been introduced by his hon. and learned Friend, he believed that in no country in the world were the poor provided for as they were in England; and he would say of the rich classes in this country (though he did not belong to them) that they manifested towards the poor a feeling which made them really appear as brethren. Such being the case, he thought it unworthy of any man in this House to attempt to array poor against rich on a question of this sort. He believed the Bill to be fraught with very great mischief, and if he were in the right hon. Gentleman's place he would have resisted its introduction. At all events, he hoped that on the second reading the right hon. Gentleman would gather courage, obey the dictates of his own clear intellect, and, seeing that the measure was opposed to the interests of the community, that he would dare to meet it by a direct negative.


said, he should support the introduction of the Bill, but he entertained a strong objection to the power of taxing the inhabitants which it conferred on the Middlesex magistrates. With regard to the Bank of England, his hon. and learned Friend was mistaken in stating that it was only rated to the relief of the poor at £300 a year. The fact was that the Bank stood in four or five different parishes, and in one of these, St. Christopher-le-Stocks, it was rated at £320 a year. In Broad Street, in which one corner of the Bank was situated, it was rated at £10,000 a year, and what it might be rated at in the other parishes he did not know. It was certainly not fair to say that because the rates were low therefore a parish was rich, or that because the rates were high, a parish was poor.


said, he considered it a misfortune that his right hon. Friend had consented to the introduction of the Bill, thereby giving some kind of encouragement to a most mischievous measure. His right hon. Friend had based his assent to the introduction of the measure upon the forbearing manner in which the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets had introduced his measure. Now, surely that was only a reason for commending the manner in which the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets had brought forward the measure; but it was no reason to justify a Minister in assenting to the introduction of a Bill of this nature. It must he borne in mind that the question was not a mere metropolitan question, or a mere parish question; if it were so it had better have been discussed at a vestry board than in the House of Commons. The fact, however, was that it was a national question, and one which indirectly affected the whole of the kingdom. The hon. and learned Member who introduced the Bill had compared the case of the metropolis with the case of towns like Cambridge, and other towns of similar size scattered throughout the kingdom; hut what analogy was there between the metropolis and the places mentioned? Cambridge had a population of only 35,000 inhabitants, while the population of the metropolis was about 2,500,000, and the net rental rated to the poor-rates amounted to nearly £12,000,000. The question, therefore, was one of great magnitude, and he was obliged to confess that the explanation of the Bill which had been given by the hon. and learned Gentleman appeared to him very like the mist which had pervaded the House during the hon. Gentleman's speech, and had it not been that by the courtesy of the hon. and learned Gentle-man he had been permitted to see the Bill itself he should not have known what it was about. It appeared that there were in the metropolis thirty-eight jurisdictions for ad-ministering relief to the poor, and that those jurisdictions comprised 178 parishes, and the scheme of the hon. and learned Gentleman was, that each parish should goon spend- ing the poor-rates as at present, and that at the end of the year an account should be taken of the expenditure in each parish, and an average struck, and that those parishes which had spent more than the average should receive the difference from those the expenditure of which had been below it. Now, such a principle, in his opinion, would destroy all motive for economy. Why every parish would be regardless of the public purse, and naturally preferring to spend its rates on its own inhabitants, would be induced to spend money in fanciful schemes lather than to place itself in the position of paying money towards the necessities of another parish. The hon. and learned Gentleman who had brought forward the subject had taken for granted that some necessity existed for some scheme of some kind to be introduced. Now, upon that point he begged to take issue with the hon. and learned Gentleman, and he thought that his right hon. Friend at the head of the Poor Law Board ought to have joined him in doing so. He had himself last year shown that the poor-rates in the metropolis were not heavy as compared with those levied throughout the kingdom, and he did not see why any special relief should be extended to parishes in the metropolis which was not extended to other parishes throughout the kingdom. As regarded the poor, the fact was that they had no interest in the matter, for it was a question for the ratepayer alone, and he hoped that the House would not be induced by any consideration that the matter was one affecting the poor, to give their sanction to such a scheme as that which was now proposed. He observed that it was urged out of doors, that the adoption of this scheme would lead to a more liberal administration of relief to the poor, but everybody was aware that a profuse administration of relief invariably collected a crowd of paupers, who appeared to spring from the ground, and who all came forward to share the advantages of a profuse administration of relief, and he did not think that any one could maintain that there was any advantage in too profuse a system. For his own part he should give a silent negative to the introduction of the Bill, and when it came to a second reading he hoped that his right hon. Friend opposite would pluck up a little more courage and give it a decided negative.


said, that he could not help rising to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the courtesy which he had shown in not opposing the Motion for leave to bring in this Bill. This was either a mode of equalising the rates, or of raising a rate in aid. he had received letters from several rev. gentlemen in the cast end of the town on this subject, and he told them he never could consent to any scheme for equalisation of poor rates. He admitted the great distress which the poor in the parishes at the east end of London had suffered during the past winter, but submitted that the remedy proposed was not a proper one. He should look with different feelings upon a proposition for a rate in aid, which he conceived to be the best method of meeting this difficulty, and hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would reconsider the question, and adopt that course. Hitherto they had not been discussing the question of the condition of the poor, but rather the principles of rating. He had expected to have heard some details of the sufferings of the poor, for he was persuaded that nothing could be more horrible than the distress which existed in the eastern portion of the metropolis during the winter. As, however, that question had not been touched upon, he must express his opposition to a system which he could not conceive would be attended with any ultimate benefit to the poor.


said, he should cordially support the Motion of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Tower Hamlets, considering that such a measure was imperatively called for. As reference had been made to St. George's Hanover Square, he would call their attention to the parishes of Paddington and Westminster, which escaped with 6d. or 7d. in the pound, whilst St, George's in the East, Stepney, Poplar, Bethnal Green, and Whilechapel, paid as much as 5s. in the pound. The district in which the Bank of England and the Royal Exchange were situated paid no more than 1½d. in the pound. But perhaps the greatest discrepancy in the rating would he found in the district in which the docks were situated; for while the London Docks paid no less than £19,756 towards the relief of the poor, St, Katherine's, which were nearly equal in extent, escaped with the moderate payment of £440. Deptford was divided into two parishes—that of St. Paul and St. Nicholas; but although the latter was much smaller in extent, it actually paid a much larger sum, the average being 10s. 6d., though sometimes it paid 16s. to 18s. in the pound. That was owing to the fact that two-thirds of the other parish was occupied as Government works, which did not pay one penny to the poor rate. The persons inhabiting the heavily taxed part of the district were the poor hard-working labourers, who were thus ground down under a system as impolitic as it was oppressive. He denied that this was not a poor man's question, as had been asserted by the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield; for although it might be true that in many cases the landlord paid the taxes, yet the houses were let at a much higher rental in consequence of these heavy impositions. He thought the whole metropolitan district should be treated as one, for the purposes of rating, and he denied, in toto, that the Government works were placed in any particular town with the intention of benefiting that district; on the contrary, they were intended as much for the benefit of Belgravia and Hanover Square as they were for Deptford, because they were national establishments, for the service of the country at large.


said, that in reference to the statement of the late President of the Poor Law Board, that he was unable to comprehend his plan from the description he had given of it, he wished to express his regret that a gentleman who had had so much experience of affairs like these failed to understand what was perfectly intelligible to hon. Gentlemen who had had no such experience. This was not a new question. Most eminent men had sanctioned the proposition that the area of rating should be altered; and if you once altered it you had then simply to deal with a question of degree, of special circumstances, and particular localities. He might further state, that for the last twenty-five years every man of ability who had been connected with the administration of the Poor Law Board—he should not, perhaps, include the right hon. Gentleman, who could not understand a plain statement— had recognized the necessity of departing from the original principle of parish rating in some degree. He should, he might add, be the last person to propose a measure which would infringe upon the legitimate rights of property; but the argument founded upon that ground had, he must contend, been raised at least thirty years too late, for if it were a valid one the question of the poor laws should never have been touched at all. When the law of settlement had been changed, an alteration had been effected in the liabilities of property. He had simply to say, in conclusion, that it was a mistake to suppose that the question involved in the Bill was a landlord's question. The tax with which he proposed to deal, was to a great extent a tax upon the occupier, and levied in its present shape it operated as a grievous burden. He therefore hoped the House would assent to the introduction of the Bill.

Leave given; Bill to provide a remedy for the inequality in the rates for the relief of the poor in the metropolis, ordered to be brought in by Mr. AYRTON and Mr. JOHN LOCKE.

Bill presented, and read 1°.