HC Deb 16 July 1861 vol 164 cc965-76

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),


said, the Drainage of Land Bill had been on the paper till to day as the first order, and no notice of any change in the order of business had been given up to the hour of two in the morning, at which hour he left the House. The Drainage of Land Bill was not now on the paper, and the Irremovable Poor Bill stood first. He understood the change had been made after two o'clock in the morning, and many hon. Members were, no doubt, under the impression that the Irremovable Poor Bill would not come on for a considerable time. That he regarded as sharp practice. With regard to the Amendment of his right hon. Friend (sir John Pakington), he was not prepared to discuss it as he thought it ought to have been discussed, as they were completely in the dark with regard to its operation throughout the country.


said, it was understood on the day before that the Irremovable Poor Bill would come on first today. The Drainage Bill had been put down first by mistake on the paper; but he might mention that it was known to the Members of the Poor Relief Committee yesterday that the Committee would not meet that day in consequence of the Irremovable Poor Bill being on the Paper.


said, that he knew nothing of the verbal arrangements, but he had come a long way to attend to the Drainage Bill, in consequence of seeing it first in order upon the notice paper up to the latter part of last week. He thought, therefore, they had a great right to complain of the transposition of the orders.


said, it was no excuse to say that a mistake had been committed. There ought to be a more orderly mode of conducting the business of the House. As far as he himself was concerned, his own Amendment, to add to the end of the 9th Clause— Provided also that extra - parochial places which have, heretofore, paid no contributions to the common fund of the union in which they are comprised shall, notwithstanding anything herein contained, be hereafter exempt from such contributions, was now before the Committee; but had it not been for an accident he should not have been present to support it. He had looked at the votes that morning in order to ascertain whether the Irremovable Poor Bill was preceded on the orders by one or two notices, and then, to his great surprise, he found that the Bill stood first of all, and that if he wished to be present at the discussion of his own Amendment he must hurry down to the House.


said, it was an error to say that the mistake was not discovered till two or three in the morning. It was discovered at five o'clock in the afternoon.


said, the mistake might have been found out by five o'clock, but it was not intimated to the House till between two and three in the morning.


said, that all misunderstanding on this subject would have been avoided if the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Villiers) had informed the House yesterday that it was his intention to bring the Bill in on that day.


said, he could not agree that his right hon. Friend the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) had made out any case in favour of his Amendment, and he, therefore, felt bound to oppose it.


said, he would leave his Amendment with the Committee, only observing that it was supported by the great authority of the right hon. Member for Carlisle (Sir James Graham) and the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie), and that the owners of extra-parochial places would suffer injustice if, having hitherto paid nothing for the support of the poor in those places, they were now compelled to contribute to the common fund.

Amendment negatived.


said, that upon that clause the whole of the Bill turned. It was, in fact, the introduction of a totally new principle in the administration of the Poor Law. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board said that since the passing of the Irremovable Poor Act in 1846, the pressure on the towns had increased. But the fact was that all the large towns, except Liverpool, were paying less for the poor than they did before the Irremovable Poor Bill was passed in 1846. A great equalization of the poor rate had been going on since the peace. For the ten years ending in 1822 the average poor rates for England and Wales was 2s 5 1/2d. in the pound; and up to the passing of the Poor Law Amendment Bill the rate was 1s. 10 1/2d. in the pound. During the last few years in had been 1s. 1 1/4d. At the end of the French war many parishes paid in poor rates as much as 4s., 5s., 6s., and even 7s. in the pound; at present most of these were under 2s. in the pound. In 1815 Sussex was the most burdened by the poor rate, paying on less than 5s. 0 1/2d. in the pound; the lowest rated county, Northumberland, paid 1s. 1 1/2d. in the pound. At present, or rather according to the last returns, the highest rated county was Wiltshire, where the poor rate was 1s. 10d.; the lowest rated, Derbyshire, paid 6d. The charge was false that the poor had been shifted from one class of parishes to another by pulling down cottages. He had tested the evidence given on this point by the census returns of 1851, and found that houses had increased in parishes where they were said to have been pulled down in order to drive out the poor. The fact was that it was found necessary to have the labourers living in the parishes in which they were employed; but it could be demonstrated that the villages and small towns from where labour was drawn increased in wealth enormously. The effect of small areas of rating was to spread villages and small towns all over the country, whereas large areas produced what he might call a congestion of habitations in one place. In the former case the labourers lived near to their work; in the latter they had often miles to go to their work. Mr. Darby, one of the Enclosure Commissioners, was examined before the Select Committee; and he stated that constant applications were made to the Commissioners to borrow money for the purpose of building cottages on entailed estates. It had been complained that while one parish paid 1 s. 10d>. in the pound another paid 10d. formerly paid more; but if it was, he contended that the Bill would not cure the inequality of rating that now existed, for one union would still continue to pay double what was paid by another. He opposed the clause, for the equalization of the rates throughout a union was not a final measure. Evidently it was a stepping-stone to a national rate. No less than 9,000 parishes would be mulcted by the iniquitous operation of the Bill. When the grossest abuses of the Court of chancery were swept away compensation was granted; but by this Bill it was proposed, without compensation, to take away from the present possessor of property one-tenth to one-eighth of his estate, and to hand it to some one else. The hon. Member for Sussex truly stated on the former occasion when the subject was discussed, that the area of relief was "neighbourhood." But was a union a neighbourhood? Why many unions comprised four, six, and even ten neighbourhoods. Let a man go to an overseer or a guardian and ask for relief; and what was the reply? Why he was asked, "Where do you live?" "Twelve miles off." If that answer were given, clearly the Officer would say at once, "I do not know you; I cannot relieve You; go to your neighbourhood where you are known." In the reign of Elizabeth the poor rates were at first imposed on petty sessional districts. The area was too large; and twenty-six years afterwards it was divided into parishes. Again, sixty years later, in the reign of Charles I., the Poor Law system was found not to work in the large parishes in the north and elsewhere, and a law was passed to divide them into smaller areas. And the same result had worked out in Ireland. Another effect of the Bill would be to do away to a great extent with the practice now followed of employing men rather than allow them to go upon the poor fund, and this would lead to a great increase of the rates. The Bill would not give satisfaction. The London parishes and others, including Norwich, complained that the three years' residence would prove highly injurious to them. He thought the London parishes were entitled to some consideration, and that a rate in aid or some other expedient should be resorted to in order to relieve overburdened parishes in London. The large town parishes were, generally speaking, unions in themselves. The present law of removability was most oppressive to the Irish. Where they became irremovable they were fixed for life. The moment they passed the parochial boundaries they became liable to be sent back to Ireland. The Bill, however, would remedy neither of these evils, and he would move the rejection of the clause.


denied that this was the commencement of the system of parochial rating, for such a system commenced as long ago as 1834. [Mr. KNIGHT: Charged on the parish.] The present Bill was intended to do away with a clumsy and unjust arrangement, by which under a system of averages one place was benefited at the expense of others. The charge for the common fund was not to be extended to larger areas than at present; it was simply to be levied on a new principle. It was not a question between town and country. It seldom happened that urban and rural parishes were combined in the same union. The complaints that were made were made by rural parishes in a country union, and by urban parishes in a town union. It had been urged that the Bill might increase the parochial burdens in some places to the extent of 2s. or 2s. 6d. in the pound. But the total amount of the poor rates was only ls. 1 1/2d. in the pound; and the irremovable poor were only one-third of the whole of the paupers. How, then, the imposition of 4 1/2d. in the pound could cause a burden of 2s. or 2s. 6d. in the pound, he could not understand. He believed that the Bill would get rid of a great many of the inequalities which existed under the past system; and, therefore, he was anxious that it should pass without delay.


said, he was unable to support the clause. They were without sufficient information on the subject to enable them to judge of the effect of the change proposed. They could not be said to be acting on the recommendations of the committee, for one of the principal recommendations of the Committee had been rejected by the House. He was surprised to hear his hon. Friend (Mr. Barrow) say that because the average rate for the poor in England was 1s. 1d., therefore, there could not be an advance of 2s. or 2s. 6d. in any one parish. No one could deny that the changes proposed in the Bill would be beneficial to the poor; but when they were breaking down the statutable liabilities of 300 years they ought to know exactly on whom the burden was to be shifted. He thought, if there were injustice in the existing system, it would be better to suffer that injustice for another year rather than to shift the burden in a way which they did not fully understand. His right hon. Friend (Sir John Pakington) urged that extra-parochial places would for the first time be subjected to the poor fund; but there were other places that might be included in the same way—mines other than coal mines, for example. Now that this shifting of burdens was taking place the whole question of settlement ought to be inquired into, with the view of placing it on a more satisfactory basis. No one thought it was in a satisfactory state at this moment. With regard to the rural parishes, they were what had been called "breeding parishes." The women there bore ten, eleven, or twelve children, and the hive soon swarmed. Well, the young ones, when they grew up, went away, some of them to the four corners of the world, and some of them to the large towns of the country. But, although the towns derived the advantage of their labour, they did not acquire a settlement in the towns; for cases constantly occurred in which, in default of acquired settlement, the man or the woman, or their offspring, came back to the birth settlement one or two or more generations after the original migration. He thought that the Bill should be tried for one year only, in order that it might be seen how it would operate, and in order to give time for full inquiry into the present law of settlement.


said, that it was he who was responsible for the first introduction of the change proposed. In they year 1845 he introduced a Bill making provision, not only for the irrevocability of the poor, but frankly, on the face of the Bill, seeking to establish union settlement, and he made that proposal deliberately, and after full consideration with the authorities with whom he was connected. That Bill did not pass: but in 1846 he introduced a Bill of a similar nature, omitting the provision respecting union settlement. His belief was that the adoption by the Legislature of the principle of irrevocability, especially when coupled with a union charge, would ultimately lead to the abolition of the law of settlement, as well as an enlargement of the area of rating, and he avowed that he thought those changes desirable. After he went out of office the Bill was proceeded with, and the present Speaker moved an instruction to the Committee that provision should be made for union settlement with respect to the irremovable poor. That instruction was carried out so far. In 1847 Mr. Buller moved for a Committee of Inquiry, and in that Committee the fullest inquiry took place. Indeed, he believed there never was a question so fully investigated and discussed as this had been. The Committee came to a Resolution declaring that the power of removing the poor ought to be abolished; but, what was more germane to the subject under discussion, they ruled also that the narrowness of the area of rating was a great source of evil, that it was desirable to extend the area of rating, and that unions formed the fittest area for that purpose. These were important decisions come to by hon. Gentlemen who were well able to judge, and after the fullest inquiry. It had been said that Mr. Buller changed his opinion. If so, the opinion of Mr. Buller must have been originally opposed to the extension of the area of rating, and the result of the inquiry must have been to lead him to the conclusion that the area of chargeability ought to be extended. When he (Sir. James Graham) was connected with the government of the Earl of Aberdeen Mr. Baines, as head of Poor Law Board, laid before that Government a Bill framed on the principles— a total abolition of the compulsory removal of the poor; an extension of the area of rating from the parish to the union; and an equitable establishment of a common fund based on an assessment of all rateable property. The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Knight) had referred to the fact that the unions in Ireland had been changed to electoral divisions; but an electoral division in Ireland, thought less that the average of English unions, was much larger than an English Parish. He must say that he believed nothing would so much benefit the poor of this country as the abolition of settlement. Every poor labourer should have the most perfect liberty to choose his place of residence where he pleased, and he believed that nothing would confer a benefit so universal or so great to the poor as the abolition of settlement. He admitted, on the other hand, that hasty legislation might be most unjust to those who had the burden of supporting the poor. He was of opinion that they must gradually approach to union rating, and coincidently with it to the abolition of settlement. If, however, he thought the present measure too violent as an approximation, or as a step in the direction of those objects, he would be unwilling to adopt it. But he believed that the measure was a gradual and safe advisable towards what he thought was advisable, while it was not unjust in itself. For that reason he should support the Bill. He, at the same time, thought that the whole question of settlement and the irremovability of the poor must next come under the consideration of the Legislature. He was disposed to think that the area of rating should be extended to the existing unions, but, at the same time, was ready to admit that if difficulties stood in the way it might be judicious to act as they had done in the case of Ireland and adopt a middle course, taking an area that would not be so large as the union nor so small as the parish.


said, he believed that the circumstances of the case justified the advance proposed to the made towards union rating. They had heard a great deal about the narrow end of the wedge being inserted, but the truth was that it was introduced by the minority of the Committee to which his right hon. Friend had referred, who brought in a Bill which led to the irremovable poor being placed on the common fund. He cordially supported the Bill, as he thought it would be highly beneficial to the poor.


said, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carlisle had spoken with great caution as to the probable effects of the proposed change of taxation, and he hoped the Government would take warning from the tone of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. The effect of the proposed change would be to impose upon close parishes for the first time a tax of 3 s. in the pound, a sum equal to 15 per cent upon the rack rent. Again, it required 15 per cent to bring the land into cultivation. Other charges amounted to 5 per cent. The management came to another 15 per cent. All these together amounted to 50 per cent. If then it was true, which he hoped was not the case, that the land of the kingdom was mortgaged to the extent of 50 per cent, the apparently occupying owner was really an occupant only on sufferance. He should like to know what practical acquaintance the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board had with poor rates, and he would ask whether he had ever paid poor rates in the course of his life? The law intended that the support of the poor should fall on all classes of persons within a parish. Then, on what principle did they impose the burden on one class only? A great shifting of the burden of taxation had been going on during the last two or three centuries. The statute of Elizabeth imposed the poor rate on every man; and stock in trade was exempted only by the annual exemption Bill. If they were going back to first principles in making changes, why not go back to the original principle of the law? He had on objection to the abolition of settlement and to the imposition of a national rate for the support of the poor, provided it was practicable. He believed, however, it was not practicable. The moment a national rate was resorted to, it would be found that they had launched into a sea of experiment and extravagant management. Believing that the clause would greatly increase the rates in many parishes, and would introduce in others a heavy charge for the first time, and believing that it contained one of the most direct attacks on vested interests ever made, he would give it his most determined opposition.


said, that unfortunate 9th Clause seemed to be thought a convenient one for hanging all sorts of arguments upon, and he rose merely to hang another upon it, which, he thought, had been lost sight of in the present discussion. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford shire had spoken of the shifting of burdens, and it was, on doubt, a proper subject of discussion under the clause. But nothing had been said of a considerable shifting of burdens that had already taken place in so many rural parishes by the rating of railways. He was not aware that any complaint had ever been made by landlords of the relief given to their parishes in consequence of a very heavy portion of the burden of supporting the poor having been thrown upon railways which passed through them. When hon. Gentleman spoke of the shifting of burdens, and of injustice being inflicted on certain parties, they should remember that no great measure of this kind could be passed without some shifting of burdens, and even a certain amount of injustice. It should at the same time be borne in mind that the shifting of burdens was no new principle in our legislation, but was one that had been frequently acted upon during the last twenty years.


said, he considered that anything which would extend the area of the laborer's exertions would be an advantage. Serfdom had been abolished in Russia, and he thought they ought not to retain it in England. He believed the Bill before the Committee would be beneficial in that respect, and, therefore, he should support it.


said, the question was not to be decided by the instances of particular parishes. It had been said that relief should be made as easy of access to the poor as possible. He believed that there could not be a greater curse to the poor than that relief should be made easy of access to them. What was wanted was that the deserving poor should be relieved in their distress. He regarded the present measure as an attempt to relieve the towns at the expense of the country parishes.


contended that as the management of the poor was in the union boards of guardians, the maintenance of the poor should be on the unions. In the Metropolis the want of a wider area of rating was to throw the support of the poor upon the poor. He believed that the law of settlement had very much to do with the strike in the building trades, because the men complained that, not being able to get residences near their work, they were away from home at least fourteen hours a day. He should support the clause.


said, the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter) had referred to the rating of railways for the poor. It was only just that when a new description of property was raised up in a parish it should be subjected to the charge of the poor. A new element of rating was introduced, and it was only fair that it should be included. If, however, railways has been of advantage in one way to agricultural parishes they were a great drawback in others, for they were constantly drawing parishes into litigation, and entailing upon them heavy burdens, to the extent of hundreds, and sometimes thousands of pounds. He had certainly never heard before that the poor laws had anything to do with the strike in the building trades. He should be glad to know whether the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board intended to persevere with this clause after the comments which had been made upon it?


said, it should be considered that railways had no voice in the administration of the poor funds, and, besides, that they added greatly to the value of landed property in rural parishes.


urged that more time was required for the consideration of that large and important subject. He was convinced from his own experience that a union rating would lead to laxity of administration.


said, he wished to put before the Committee the result of some recent experience which he had acquired. A committee of which he was a member had raised £ 40,000 to relieve the distresses in the ribbon trade at Coventry. and it the adjacent districts. They worked for some time by a central committee upon the numerical principle—he meant according to the population of each parish. He saw the principle fail. Without the test of individual responsibility they could obtain no security that imposition would not be practiced. They, therefore, gave up the numerical principle. The Committee then obtained a census showing the number actually in distress in each district without reference to mere population, which was equivalent to value. They found that if they took that consideration only they would equally waste their funds and fail to do justice. He was convinced that if the committee adopted the principle of rating by value they would annual the sense of responsibility in the parishes, and lose all economical control, and that a great mass of irremovable poor would be located in several unions, in which the responsibility of individuals would be too small to induce exertion to prevent abuse. He, therefore, opposed the element of numbers alone, as he opposed the element of value alone, feeling convinced that the principle of the old law of Elizabeth, the union of the two, was the proper basis of legislation of the subject. It might be difficult, but the Legislature should not give it up on the ground of difficulty. He was convinced that a maximum rating ought to be adopted, and that being reached, all further proceedings should be in the nature of a rate in aid, which should extend over the union of which the parish, in which the rates had reached a maximum, formed a part.

Motion made, and Question put, "That Clause 9 stand part of the Bill."

The Committee divided:— Ayes 127; Noes 44: Majority, 83.

clause agreed to.


said, he would propose a clause restricting the operation of the Act to five years. If found to be a wise measure it could be renewed.


said, he had heard no reason given for adopting the clause, but he should not wish to oppose it if it were the wish of the House.


said, he should support the clause. The clause on which they had just divided had been carried by a majority, not one-tenth of whom had listened to the discussion which took place, and who only came into the House when the question was put.


said, he hoped that no limit would be introduced into the Bill.

Clause negatived.

Preamble agreed to.

House resumed; Bill reported, without Amendment, to be read 3° To-morrow.