HC Deb 09 July 1861 vol 164 cc611-21

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 9 (Contributions to the Common Fund to be calculated according to the annual Value of rateable Property),

Amendment again proposed,

"In page 3, line 12, to leave out after the word 'thereof' to the end of line 14, in order to insert the words' upon an assessment calculated by adding to the annual value of the lands and hereditaments in each of such parishes, as here inafter described, a sum equal in pounds sterling to the amount in numbers of the population of such parish, according to the last Census",—instead thereof.


expressed the objections he felt to the present clause, and protested against a larger area of rating being adopted than that which now existed. He thought that the parochial system should be encouraged as much as possible. In the rural districts great endeavours had been made to employ the poor, even when their services were not absolutely requisite, in order that they might be dealt with fairly. Facility ought to be given to the poor man to go to any part of the country where his services might be most required — and, indeed, emigration at present proceeded to a considerable extent. He approved of the Amendment proposed by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt); but would reserve to himself the right of opposing the clause in any manner he might think fit. He should be glad if the Home Secretary would postpone the Bill till next Session.


said, that he had found that in many unions a great abuse existed in the exemption of what were called close parishes from paying towards the union rating. That abuse was obviated by this clause, and it, therefore, should receive his support. He could not give his assent to the principle of the Amendment—namely, that the parish with the smallest population, though of the same rateable value with another, ought to pay less. That would hold out an inducement to landlords to get rid of the poor out of their parishes in order to escape the charges to the common fund and the general poor rate. One of the greatest wrongs now perpetrated was that landlords availed themselves of the labour of the poor when they were able to work, and turned them out of the parish when their labour was no longer available. This was a wrong so grievous that he would do nothing to encourage it, as the Amendment, by making population an element in the mode of contribution, would be certain to do. He was not in favour of union rating, because he thought there should be some recognition of the merits of parishes which were well managed, but he thought there might be such an extension of the system as was proposed by the present Bill.


felt compelled to differ from his right hon. Friend near him (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) on the Amendment he had proposed. He thought his right hon. Friend was right in saying that the Bill would work unfairly; but he anticipated that the cheek proposed by his right hon. Friend would be as likely to work against his object as for it—for example, when there were two adjoining parishes, one small but composed of rich landlords, the order large but almost solely composed of the poor; in such a case the poor parish would, by the Amendment, have to pay largely; while the rich one, which had a small population, would escape with a very small payment. But though he was opposed to the Amendment of his right hon. Friend he was equally opposed to the 9th Clause. His opinion was that the more they equalized these burdens the better. There was much that was good in the measure, but the fist part of the Bill and the second were inconsistent. He suggested to the Home Secretary that he should proceed with the Bill, omitting the present clause.


hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not abandon the 9th Clause. He had, with great reluctance, come to the conclusion to vote against the Amendment, as he thought it would prove injurious rather than otherwise to poor parishes. The more he considered the question, the more he thought that some change of the present system was called for. He strongly deprecated the system of turning the poor out of parishes when their labour was no longer available, and mentioned, as a proof of the power which landlords possessed in this respect, that in his own parish he might, if so inclined, turn every poor person out of it. He would vote for the clause, because he thought it would remedy this evil.


hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not give his assent to the Amendment. The clause as it stood would in his opinion, go far to remedy evils that now existed.


accepted the Bill, with the conviction that on the whole it would, be beneficial to the country; and he could not support the Amendment, because he did not believe it would tend to the advantage of poor parishes. Under the present system the strength and vigour of the poor were taken advantage of for the purposes of labour; and then, when old age or infirmity came on, they were left to be supported by those who had not enjoyed the benefit of their labour. He thought the 9th Clause would tend to alleviate this evil, and as he considered it the marrow of the Bill, he would give it his cordial support.


hoped the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) would not press his Amendment to a division. The 9th Clause would, in his opinion, operate most advantageously for the poor. It was proved before the Committee that in York, and other towns, one street was found to be in three, four, or five parishes, and in those cases the poor were turned out of one parish into another without knowing anything about it. The clause would remedy such an evil as that, and, therefore, he gave it his support.


thought that in legislating on this subject they ought to consider present usage, and what were the customary payments. The evil complained of was that which arose form what were called "close parishes". The Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman touched these cases, but dealt tenderly with them. He could not consider this Bill, and especially this clause, as anything but an attempt to get in the thin edge of the wedge of union rating. In the euphonious language of the President of the Poor Law Board, it meant equalization of rates. He was perfectly satisfied that if it were adopted union rating most follow. He had no objection to the former part of the Bill. He had some doubt as to the remedy proposed by his right hon. Friend. He should like before they legislated in the sense of this caluse to have returns from every union as it now stood, as it would stand under the alteration proposed by the President of the Poor Law Board, and as it would stand under the Amendment of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) He should like to know what Gentleman meant by a close parish. He knew that under the parochial system the interests of the poor were considered, and the interests of the ratepayers also. If they passed this clause they would give the power into the hands of those who, not having any direct inducement to economize, would pursue a course that must eventually increase the pressure of the rates. He should probably vote in the first instance for the Amendment of his right hon. Friend, but if that were not carried he should vote to leave out Clause 9, which he considered one of the most violent attacks on vested interests that he had ever remembered, and considering that it was a most insidious step taken towards union rating, under which a great check to the increase of the rates would be taken away, he would give it his most determined opposition.


gave his support to the Bill on the ground that it encouraged the labouring men to live upon the estates upon which they worked.


thought it would be contrary to the whole course of legislation of that House to give an interest to parishes to discourage the increase of the labouring population, which would be the effect of the Amendment. He thought the clause would operate very fairly in equalising the burdens of parishes, and calling upon those which had hitherto escaped to contribute their share to the support of those in whose services they shared the advantage.


said, that by the clause as it stood they would be paving the way for the introduction of union rating, and so soon as they came to that system they would increase the burdens of the Poor Law to the country by 50 per cent. He admitted that some great advantages would be derived from this clause; but on the other hand the disadvantages were so considerable as to justify him in voting for its omission. He should in the first instance support the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman, and if that were rejected he should vote against the clause.


said, it was always satisfactory to argue with Gentlemen who stated broadly and in and unreserved manner the reasons by which they were guided. The hon. Member for the North Riding (Mr. Cayley) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Lancashire (Colonel W. Patten) stated that their objection to the clause was that it would introduce union rating. It was for that very reason he supported the clause. Ever since he had been able to pay attention to this question the conviction had been growing stronger and stronger on his mind that union rating was not only the system to which they must arrive, but that it was the only fair and equitable system. Nothing could be more arbitrary than the division of parishes; they were mere ecclesiastical divisions, and no reason could be given a priori why they should be divided in the unequal and arbitrary way in which we now found them. The hon. Member for the North Riding asked what was "a close parish?" He (Mr. Walter) lived in a neighbourhood where there were parishes so "close" that they belonged to two or three persons; and he could point to parishes in which it was not possible for any person to build a cottage—that was to say, parishes in which those who resided in them had the power of preventing the poor from living in those parishes. He could mention a parish in his neighbourhood in which, up to a recent period, the population had not increased one single soul for a century. [" Name, name! "] He could easily name the parish if it was desirable to do so.[" No, no! "] Many Gentlemen could confirm the accuracy of what he had stated. He could confirm from his own knowledge that the hon. Member for South Cheshire (Mr. Tollemache) had stated as being the case in his parish—that there were parishes in which landlords had the power of not allowing a single poor person to live in them. Now he asked on what principle of justice they should be exempted from bearing their proper share of the burden of supporting the poor, and so throw the burden on neighbouring parishes? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Lancashire complained that in his part of the country the towns absorbed the labouring population. He should like to know whether there was any deficiency of cottages in the parishes to which the right hon. Gentleman referred? His experience was that wherever cottages were built the population was to be found. They had heard a good deal about the parochial system; but he, for one, was unable to discover what the parochial system consisted of. He had always understood that the new Poor Law system destroyed parochial management. He would give an instance to prove this. He never but once attended a meeting of a Board of Guardians, and he went on that one occasion to look after the case of an old woman seventy years of age, whose allowance had been struck off. He found the meeting attended by guardians from other parishes, and on a division they beat him by a majority of one. He thought it right, however, in these circumstances to avail himself of his privilege as a magistrate, and, getting a brother magistrate to act with him, they exercised the right which the law gave, and made an order that the poor woman should be relieved, to the great surprise and disgust of the guardians assembled. Where was the parochial system there? The guardians of the neighbouring parishes refused the relief to this poor woman; but, if the guardians of neighbouring parishes could control the poor in other parishes than their own, on what principle could they refuse to bear the burden of the poor in those parishes? This state of things had very much influenced him in forming an opinion in favour of union rating. He held that whatever the area of management was that should also be the area of rating. Nothing could be more fair, nothing more logical, than this conclusion; and he did not apprehend that there would be any danger of extending the area of rating beyond what was found necessary for good and economical management.


said, the hon. Member for Berkshire supported this Bill because he thought its tendency was towards union rating, and he evidently thought that that was the result to which it would lead. The hon. Member also thought that nothing could be more absurd than the division of parishes; but he (Mr. Henley) would ask, whether anything could be more absurd than the division of unions? There was the greatest possible difference in the size, the population, and the wealth of unions; so that the same objection would apply to them that the hon. Member had raised to parishes. The hon. Member mentioned the case of an old woman of seventy who was denied relief; but that occurred under union management. Fortunately for her, the poor woman found a humane individual in her neighbourhood, who attended to her case; and it would be found that in most cases the poor had the assistance of persons in their own parishes, who went to the union and interposed in their behalf. He believed that if they once extended the area over a large space they would soon have the same state of things that they formerly had in the large parishes. It was likely enough, as the hon. Member for Berkshire observed, that no increase had taken place in the population of some parishes for many years. No doubt that was the case, and he would probably find some which had even less population then they had a century since. That was no argument, however, for or against the claim, for this apparent stagnation was not to be ascribed to pulling down cottages, but was done, in a great degree, to the absorption of small farms into larger ones. There was, of course, a smaller population in the case of large farms the small holdings; because, in addition to the number of labourers employed, there were also the families of the occupiers who lived upon the small holdings. He thought that in the present Bill the House was legislating prematurely in the dark. All the discussion that had taken place on this clause showed that information was wanting as to its precise operation, and in the absence of information it was not very unwise to look to authority. From a comparison of the very conflicting opinions which had been expressed by persons qualified to form an opinion upon the subject, he took the balance of authority to be in favour of the retention of the clause with Amendments. Upon the question immediately before the House he should give his vote for the Amendment.


wished to explain that he had referred to the case of his own parish merely to show the power which landlords possessed of turning the poor out of their parishes—a power which no class of men ought to have.


said, that as the alteration now proposed was a very mitigated one, and although it would interfere slightly with the incidence of the burden of the poor rates, he would not on that account be deterred from doing what he considered an act of justice, and attempting to remedy an admitted evil. If he were certain that the Bill would be the end of the wedge in favour of union rating, that would be no ground for his declining to support the measure. But he did not think that the Bill went the length of any union rating; while as a tentative measure he considered it deserving of the support of the House.


freely owned that if this 9th Clause were a step towards union rating, that would be no objection to his mind. In close parishes the cottages had decreased, few were built, and the great proportion of the labour came from the open parishes, and he considered, therefore, that there was a necessity for some gradual alteration in the incidence of the rating, and that the close parish should contribute to the support of the poor. But this clause did not go so far a union rating; it introduced no great change, and the change it did introduce would, in his opinion, he very beneficial.


said, he had been in the habit of attending the meeting of boards of guardians for twenty-six years, and he was bound to say, from all the experience he had gained, that he had not that dread of union rating which was generally entertained on his side of the House. He agreed with the hon. Member for Barkshire (Mr. Walter) in thinking that, however excellent parochial rating might be for ecclesiastical proposes, it was not a beneficial system for the relief of the poor. It was their duty to improve as far as they could be position of the labouring classes, and he believed that nothing would tend more to that end than doing away as far as possible with the law of settlement and extending the area of rating. Entertaining these wishes he could not object to the clause. He was ready to admit that it was, to use the phrase of the hon. Member for the North Riding, putting in the thin end of the wedge with regard to union rating. His experience of the working of the Poor Law was that there was no disposition on the part of unions to deal with the common charges in a way different from the parochial charges; and he believed that, if they adopted union rating, the sane motives to economy would prevail that existed under parochial rating. He should support the Amendment of his right hon. Friend for the reasons that it would make no material change in the incidents of taxation; that it would very much tend to reconcile the country to the introduction of union rating to this extent, and that it might have some effect in promoting the passage of the Bill elsewhere.


, speaking from considerable experience, thought that it would be a great advantage to the poorer and working classes to have a settled residence provided for them, and he, therefore, gave the Bill his hearty support. He believed that if union rating were generally adopted, it would not be for the benefit of the working classes, but thought that the principle of union rating, so far as it was carried in this Bill, would be beneficial to them.


was confident that Poor Law charges would be much enhanced by the present Bill. How would this particular clause operate with regard to the poor in future? It would much decrease the interest taken in the poor in the places in which they resided, and they would have the poor more often rendered subject to hardships than now, inasmuch as the Poor Law charge over the whole country would come to be considered as something like a common fund. He objected to this Bill also, because it would tend to break up the parochial system. He should give his support to his right hon. Friend, and if his Amendment was not carried, he should retain to himself the right of opposing the clause.


said, his constituents were reconciled to this Bill mainly by the 9th Clause, and he believed, if the Amendment were carried, it would cause very great regret.


, in reply, repeated his objections to the clause, and replied to the objections urged against his Amendment. He submitted that in coming to a decision in regard to it the Committee had to choose between two points. If they adopted the clause as it stood they would give their votes in favour of union rating, and union rating not confined to the particular clause of this particular Bill; and if on the other hand they voted for the Amendment the results would be small—they would establish a check upon the universal application of the system of union rating, and retain in their hands that which had been hitherto a most wholesome check upon extravagant expenditure by keeping in the knowledge and in the hands of the parishioners of different parishes some hold upon the purse held for the relief of the poor.


admitted that in its pecuniary result this Amendment was a matter of comparative indifference, but he agreed with those who had said that the right hon. Gentleman's plan did offer a direct premium and inducement to those who held land in small parishes to get rid of their population. There was no evidence given before the Committee respecting the operation of this joint system of assessment, except that of the right hon. Gentleman himself, who afterwards, as a member of the Committee, gave judgment upon his own statements. A great practical injustice had been suffered for the last twelve years, and constant remonstrances had been made as to the mode in which the common fund of the union was charged, and all that the Committee had now to decide was whether this Bill met satisfactorily the long complained of grievance. What it proposed was simply that the poor chargeable upon the unions should be provided for out of the common funds of the union, instead of by the parishes separately. The plan proposed was no new one, and, it was a fact, the same as that brought forward by Mr. Charles Buller twelve years ago. There was already abundant evidence before the Committee to enable them to decide upon the question, and he hoped that there would be no public delay in its settlement.


denied that any such propositions as that contained in the Bill had been brought before the House on any occasion.


begged to refer the right hon. Gentleman to the Reports which had been laid before the House previous to the debates in 1848, and to the discussion itself.

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

The Committee divided:—Ayes 137; Noes 100: Majority 37.


proposed the following addition to the clause:— Provided also that the contributions of extra-parochial places to the common fund of the unions in which they are comprised, shall, notwithstanding anything herein contained, be calculated as heretofore. All he asked was that the extra-parochial districts should be treated with justice, and not subjected to extraordinary burdens. He was himself proprietor of an extra-parochial district, and for years it had contained no poor whatever, a state of things which applied to many other extra-parochial districts. Under the system of averages nothing was paid for those places, and all he asked was that they should not be included in the charge now proposed with reference to the common fund.


could not see on what principle these places which, by Act of Parliament, had ceased to be extra-parochial, should be exempt from this burden, and, therefore, opposed the Amendment.


explained the nature of the legislation which had taken place four years ago on this subject, and stated that the Act then passed applied only to those extra-parochial places which had no poor. He thought the right hon. Baronet had a case in favour of the extra-parochial places that had never any poor, and he ought to confine his proposal to those places alone.


could not understand why there should be any ground for exemption in favour of these extra-parochial places.


said, the introduction of those extra-parochial places was just one of many hardships that would be imposed by this clause upon-property.


thought it would be a fair and reasonable settlement of the question if those places that had not hitherto been charged for the poor were still to be exempted.


would agree to alter the terms of his Amendment to the effect that the exemption should apply only to those extra-parochial places which had not hitherto been chargeable for the support of the poor.


saw a wide distinction between those extra-parochial places that had poor and those that never had them. He thought those places that had never been charged for the poor hitherto should be exempted from the charge under the Bill, and, therefore, he would vote for the Amendment of his right hon. Friend.


did not look upon the matter as one of very great importance: but they were in the dark as to the numbers and extent of the places which it proposed to exempt. The same claim might, a few years ago, before the late Act was passed, have been put forward by a great number of parishes that could not now be exempted.


said, that whether the number of places affected was 20 or 100 was immaterial. The question was whether or not it was just that these claims should be considered.

House resumed.

Committee report Progress; to sit again this day.